Updated: Mar 15, 2021
World Plant Milk Day - August 22nd
Plant milks are becoming incredibly popular and not just with vegans. Many people are realising that they are lactose intolerant, that consuming dairy products makes them feel unwell. That dairy causes them acne, rashes, stomach aches and diarrhoea; I'm not sure why it doesn't occur to them that they're not baby cows and, therefore, should not be drinking cow's milk, but that's a conversation for another day.
What Is Plant Milk?
In Europe, plant milks cannot be referred to as "milk" when they are sold and are often labelled as drinks. They can be made from a number of different types of foods including, nuts, seeds and fruits. Most plant milk is made to look like cow's milk, the colour and consistency is replicated and the milks are made so that they can be used in the same way as cow's milk, whether that's in tea or coffee, in a cheese sauce or to make pancakes. These milks are also used to make vegan ice creams, yogurts and cheeses. But, plant milks are nothing new, plant based drinks have been around since the 13th century, with the first known plant milk-type beverage being horchata, a milk-like drink made from ground and soaked, ground tiger nuts, being made in North Africa.
The way that plants milks are made varies according to what type of plant milk you are making, but, generally, the nut, seed, or whatever you are using is soaked in water, the mixture is then blended and strained. You can make your own plant milk at home too, it's cheaper than buying the pre-made cartons from the shops.
What Plant Milks Are Available?
Plant milks can be bought in the shops ready to drink, either fresh or in a long life form. The long life milks are just as good as the fresh milks, but they have been heated to extremely high temeperatures to kill all of the germs in them. This means that they don't have to be stored in the fridge until they have been opened and can be kept on a shelf or in the cupboard for a long time without going off. There are many different plants milks available to buy with organic, sweetened and unsweetened varieties easily accessible.
Almond Milk - Almond milk is considered a nut milk by many, but almonds aren't actually nuts, they're seeds. This plant milk is very popular, especially with cereal eaters, but it is low in protein. If this is a problem make sure that you are getting enough protein from other sources or use a different plant milk. Almonds do require a lot of water to grow, though, so, for the sake of the environment, it may be better to choose a different variety.
Soy Milk - There is a group of people that are anti-soy, they like to talk about how 90% of the soy grown in the US is genetically engineered (GMO) and sprayed with toxic herbicides. The problem with this is that GMO soy is mainly fed to livestock, this means that it's the dairy drinkers that are getting the GMO soy through cow's milk, also soy milk that is certified non-GMO or organic doesn’t have this problem. Soy milk is high in protein, it is comparable to cow's milk, and, if it is fortified, can contain up to 38% or your daily recommend amount of vitamin D, and is a good source of vitamin B12, calcium and even iodine. Some people have a low tolerance for soy milk as it makes them feel nauseous, but it is one of many options, not all plant milks have this problem.
Oat Milk - My absolute favourite. It is versatile due to it's consistency and has a subtle flavour. It is a fantastic dairy substitute as it can be used hot or cold in drinks, and is good to cook with. It is more creamy than other plant milks and can be frothed.
Coconut Milk - This isn't the same thing as the coconut milk that comes in a can and is used for cooking. It is made using creamed coconut that is then watered down. The coconut flavour remains, but it is not strong, this plant milk is great on chocolate flavoured cereals, it also makes a tasty coconut flavoured coffee.
Rice Milk - This plant milk doesn't have much of a flavour to it, it can also be thinner, more runny, than other varieties. For some people this is perfect as they prefer a milk that doesn't alter the taste of their food.
Cashew Milk - This is a nut milk and, like the nut it is made from, contains unsaturated fats that are good for your heart. Cashews also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which are good for your your eyes. In terms of flavour cashew milk is creamy and makes a great base for soups, sauces, and is great in oatmeal porridge. Cashews use less water than almonds so could be a good alternative.
Hazelnut Milk - Another nut milk that has a sweet and nutty flavour.
There are other varieties as well, such as banana milk, flax milk, hemp and pea milk, but these aren't very common and can usually only be found in health food shops.
Is Plant Milk Healthy?
It's definetly healthier for the cows, but it's also better for the environment, needing less land and water per litre to produce than dairy. It takes 628l of water to product one litre of cow's milk, but only 48l to produce one litre of oat milk. Regarding people, a study carried out by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers looked into the health of 43,000 men and 187,000 women and found that, when calories from full-fat dairy products were replaced with carbohydrates from whole grains, the risk of heart disease dropped by 28%. Now, this doesn't prove that plant milk is good for you, but it does show that dairy isn't.
Dairy consumption is linked to increased rates of acne and other types of skin conditions, also the hormones found in cow's milk are believed to increase the risk of certain cancers — especially prostate cancer. Also, 75% of the world's population is lactose intolerant, there's no lactose in plant milk.
A lot of the plant milks that are available are fortified, they contain added vitmains and minerals that vegans can struggle to get enough of, such as vitamin E and iodine. This is a definite health benefit, however, some plant milks do contain added sugar, not so good. If possible go for the unsweetened varieties. Plant milks all have different nutrition profiles, and this is across different types of plant milk and different brands of the same plant milk. If you want to give them a try but you're not sure which one is best for you ask around, you're bound to know someone that drinks plant milk. If not try a couple of different milks and see how you like them, it can be trial and error to find your favourite, but there is definitely a plant milk for everyone.