The Beginner’s Guide to Non-Dairy Milks

Learn about the best non-dairy milk options and how to use them.

If you haven’t heard, dairy milk is out and non-dairy milk is in! You’ve seen the variety of soy, oat, and nut milks in the store, but are these substitutes really any better than dairy? And if you’ve been used to cow’s milk your whole life, how do you go about incorporating some of these products into your diet?

Navigating the recent additions to the refrigerated section can be confusing — if it takes too long to sort it all out, you risk frostbite standing in front of a cooler. Fear not! Here are my top three non-dairy beverages, how to use them, and what to snatch straight from your local market.

Oat milk: think sweet

Making oat milk at home is easy, but not fool-proof. You could go through the work of blending some big, beautiful oats with water and then squeezing it all through a nut milk bag … or you could buy a carton at the store. After unsuccessfully attempting to make oat milk three times, I took the hint and dropped $4 at the supermarket and have been enjoying the sweet, oaty flavor of this milk on the regular.

I spend most of my time at a grocery store reading labels. I have grown to love and appreciate knowing exactly what I eat. One key ingredient to watch: sugar. The levels of sugar in a non-dairy milk is a clue to how to use it. “Original” style oat milk usually comes with about 4g of added sugar in a serving. But oats are naturally sweet, so if knocking out added sugar is a priority of yours as well, turn to the unsweetened variety.

How can you use oat milk? Cue cereal, granola, oatmeal (redundantly delicious), smoothies, and most importantly, espresso. Oat milk lattes are popular because they are incredibly delicious. Your local coffee shop is bound to have it in stock!

Personally, I shy away from cooking with oat milk — the natural sweetness doesn’t work for me in food recipes. Coffee drinks, however, are a perfect match for oat milk. This is my at-home recipe for a delicious variation on a latte I adore:

2 shots of espresso
8 oz original or unsweetened oat milk (or more to taste)
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Dash of cinnamon

Brew up a tasty double espresso (I percolate mine on the stove). While the espresso heats, warm your oat milk to your preferred temperature with a fancy frother, stove top, or microwave. Once your espresso is ready, gently pour it over a tablespoon of brown sugar into your serving cup. Froth or vigorously whisk the oat milk, then pour it over your espresso-brown sugar mixture. Top with cinnamon and enjoy!

If you’re not a coffee drinker, I dare you to try ice cream made with oat milk. The cartons in your store’s frozen aisle are small, but the flavors are not.

Almond milk: think savory

Let’s address the issue head-on. Almond milk gets a bad reputation because of the volume of water they need to grow. Yes, almonds demand more water to grow — but it is still much less than it takes to produce red meat. Almond milk is my go-to dairy substitute if I am going for only one carton in the fridge. My morning oatmeal is laden with this creamy treat. My smoothies blend easier with just a quarter cup. It also helps cream up staple soups, like broccoli, mushroom, or potato.

Banana-flavored almond milk was a true revelation to me — it’s like a smoothie in a carton. Try leveling up your oatmeal game with this mixture sometime: Make a serving of oatmeal replacing the water with an almond banana milk. Once hot and ready, throw in a tablespoon of ground flax, a heaping spoonful of peanut butter, and a handful of blueberries in. You now have a delicious filling breakfast to keep you going stronger longer.

If you’re more of a dessert person, Trader Joe’s makes a ridiculously yummy almond-mango yogurt. Yes, it has sugar in it — so I treat it as a dessert. But who knew almonds could be so much more than your least favorite thing in a trail mix?

Coconut milk: think decadent

Are you ready to treat yourself? You deserve some coconut milk in your life. Yes, it is called “milk” when it’s drained from a coconut. The good news is you have so many delicious choices.

Unlike oat milk and almond milk, coconut milk is best known for being in a can. Coconut milk separates very easily because of its oil-to-water ratio. That’s okay, just be sure to shake it before you pop the top. Depending on how rich you want your meals, you can choose from a variety of products — the fat content determines whether it is “coconut cream” (the highest fat), “coconut milk” (20% fat), or “lite coconut milk” (the least fat).

Coconut milk has been around for centuries and is a staple in many southeast Asian cuisines. Innumerable shades of curry are created with coconut milk. Because of its high fat, it plays well with spices and stronger flavors. It also makes for a warming and comforting drink.

Here is my “golden milk” recipe — but careful: this is not for everyday drinking. The turmeric in this recipe is famous for its beautiful golden color, and it also helps fight inflammation. It is a drool-worthy, luxurious drink packed with fats and flavors.

Combine in a medium pot:
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 1/2 cups almond milk
2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp maple syrup

Whisk over medium heat until hot, not boiling. Find your favorite mug, carefully pour it in and enjoy.

Don’t want to get another pot dirty? Head to the store and look for a coconut creamer for your coffee. You deserve the best. You can also look for coconut water. I highly recommend coconut water for chugging with extra spicy foods or after a hard workout.

Move over dairy milk-mustached athletes — there is a new, more compassionate option in town. Dairy alternative beverages are not just about experimenting, but about healing our bodies and caring for our planet.

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