15 Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives to Try
15 Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives to Try
We would like to briefly discuss different types of milk, their benefits, and what you can use them for.
The purpose of this post is to help you decide which milks to include as a part of your menu. We recommend considering your business location and the preferences of your customers before choosing.
To begin, here are non-dairy options:
1) Rice Milk
The most unique and sweetest of the non-dairy options rice milk is made primarily of brown rice, brown rice starch, and brown rice syrup. It is occasionally fortified with vitamins, minerals, and calcium. For the most part, it is just carbs. With around 26 carbs per every 8 ounces, this type of milk is not the healthiest non-dairy option even if the labels read fat- and cholesterol-free.
It is a favorite for those with allergies. Containing no lactose, soy, or nuts, it is ideal for those who desire a hypoallergenic choice. It has a neutral taste and mild texture. This makes it preferable for smoothies and cereals, but often a “last resort” for coffee lovers. It does not have any protein to give drinks a foamy or creamy texture.
And while it doesn’t taste like milk, there are some health benefits. For example, it is ideal for those seeking to avoid dairy who might have a nut or soy allergy and it doesn’t contain any added sugar. It is one of the more expensive options though. Costing just a bit more than almond milk.
2) Hemp Milk
While marijuana and hemp have recently become more accepted, hemp milk is still controversial (depending on location and audience). It contains trace amounts of THC (the element in marijuana and the hemp plant that causes hallucinogenic results), but not enough to produce psychoactive effects. The fact that it contains any, however, is enough to make some customers approach it cautiously.
Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds. The seeds are crushed and then soaked in water resulting in a rich, creamy milk that has a nutty flavor. It contains almost the same amount of protein as whole milk and is a healthy source of amino acids. It contains omega-3 fatty acids naturally (known to improve heart health and lower cholesterol). It does contain more fat than other whole milk alternatives but is low in carbohydrates. Just make sure you don’t grab one fortified with sugars, thickeners, and vitamins if you desire a low-carb option. Hemp milk that has been fortified is high in carbs, typically over 20 for just 8 ounces.
Hemp milk works well for coffee. Since it is high in protein, it steams well and is a creamier option than most cow’s milk alternatives. Its foam will fade faster than whole milk’s but should last long enough for the customer to enjoy.
Hemp milk is also ideal for cooking applications where a creamy texture is desired, but whole milk cannot be used. For example, hemp milk works well in mashed potatoes.
3) Almond Milk
Made from almonds or almond butter with water, almond milk is the most popular non-dairy option. Manufacturers have produced it in many flavors including vanilla, salted, unsweetened, and sweetened. It has a nutty flavor and silky, thin texture. Despite containing low amounts of protein, it can have a creamy consistency. Rich in healthy fats, magnesium, potassium, calcium, protein, fiber, and vitamin E, it contains little sodium, is cholesterol-free, and is the lowest calorie non-dairy option.
We would recommend using it for cooking or baking applications and avoiding using it in coffee or drinks. While it can create a pretty, foamy appearance on top of a latte, it tends to separate when heated. This means it will water down coffee and hot drinks.
4) Soy Milk
Soy milk has been used as a non-dairy substitute for longer than any of the other milk alternatives. In fact, one source traces it back to the 11th century BC. It was apparently consumed primarily in China (“18 Types of Milk: Flavors, Ingredients, and Benefits,” 2021) but is consumed all around the world now. One reason for its current popularity as a non-dairy milk option is the fact that it’s closest to whole milk out of all the lactose-free options. It contains calcium naturally, lots of soy proteins, and is low in saturated fat and sugar.
It is made by soaking dried soybeans and then grinding them in water or with soy protein isolate. Some manufacturers do add extra sweeteners so be sure to read the label to know how healthy of an option you are purchasing. Soy milk is best used in smoothies and cooking applications. It can be used for coffee thanks to its smooth, creamy, and mostly neutral taste but it may separate once added if the coffee is too hot or it is too cold. We recommend warming the soy milk first then adding hot coffee to it. If used to decorate coffee, note that it will foam like regular milk if the barista has been trained and is experienced with using it. It may take some practice.
It is easily accessible and is considered sweeter and easier to use than almond milk because it is thicker.
The only potential drawback of using soy milk is its high levels of soy estrogens. This can affect the hormonal balance of some individuals who drink it. This is uncommon, however, and is considered healthy for most individuals when enjoyed moderately.
5) Oat Milk
If you’ve tried oat milk, you know it has a mild, sweet taste. While thicker than some non-dairy substitutes, it can be a little watery. This depends on which brand you purchase and how it is made. It is typically made of oats, water, and some manufacturers add oil, salt, and other ingredients to enhance flavor. They strain the oats which can result in a thinner product depending on the process.
Its creamy, richness is considered to be equal to if not greater than whole milk. Compared to whole milk, it is high in fiber, contains little fat, and has an almost equal amount of protein. It is high in beta-glucan which is extremely healthy. Healthline writes that beta-glucan reduces cholesterol, improves digestion and heart health, increases a sense of fullness, and lowers post-meal blood sugar spikes ("The 9 Best Nondairy Substitutes for Milk,” 2018). Oat milk is lactose-, soy-, and nut-free, making it ideal for individuals with allergies.
Oat milk is a popular milk substitute for coffee thanks to its creaminess. It also foams well for latte art. It can be used in cooking and baking and has been recommended specifically for pancakes and breakfast foods.
6) Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is occasionally confused with coconut water, but they are not the same. Coconut water is the liquid that is naturally produced inside of the coconut while it grows. Coconut milk is taken from the white flesh of mature brown coconuts.
Home Stratosphere explains the process that is used to make it. They write “Thick coconut milk is prepared by simmering or boiling finely grated solid coconut flesh in water after which the mixture is strained through a cheesecloth, resulting in fine and thick coconut milk…Thin coconut milk is made from grated coconut flesh that remains behind in the cheesecloth after preparing thick coconut milk. It is simmered or boiled the same way till you get a thin, water-like consistency” (“22 Different Types of Milk,” 2021).
Its taste will also vary based on whether you purchase it in a carton or from a can. Canned coconut milk is often thicker and maintains a stronger coconut flavor. Coconut milk from a carton, however, is slightly thinner and maintains a more neutral taste.
Regardless of which you chose, it has a creamy texture and froths well in coffee. The foam produced will have larger bubbles than traditional cow’s milk and the froth is less dense, but it is still capable of producing a delicious taste, creamy texture, and beautiful latte art. Its high-fat content is the primary reason it will still foam and produce the desired appearance for coffee. The taste of coconut is easily masked with other creamers and flavors and will go unnoticed by most coffee drinkers.
You can cook with it as well, but we would recommend being selective with the recipes you chose. Especially depending on what type of coconut milk you purchase –canned, from a carton, thick or thin.
It works well in smoothies, cereals, and other drinks as well for those who appreciate the coconut flavor.
7) Cashew Milk
Cashew milk is a less popular option but is still a noteworthy one. Unlike many of the others, it’s creamy like whole milk, it’s actually naturally sweet, and doesn’t taste quite as nutty as some of the other dairy substitutes. It’s also a very healthy choice. With fewer calories, carbohydrates, and fat, it is ideal for those dieting. It contains polyunsaturated fats, vitamin A, vitamin E, and “8% of the daily value for iron” (“Which Type of Milk is Healthiest?,” 2019). To really enjoy its health benefits though, it should be noted you may have to be selective in which brand you chose as many add unhealthy sweeteners and preservatives.
We recommend using it to thicken smoothies, in cereal, or when cooking and baking. Its natural sweetness makes it excellent for desserts. Consider too using it in coffee. With practice, it can provide similar results as whole milk in lattes and as toppings.
8) Pea Milk
Containing lots of protein and potassium, this milk foams well in coffee, lattes, and other hot drinks. Its froth doesn’t disappear quickly and it has a silky texture ideal for creating art. It is ranked as one of the highest dairy substitutes for taste. Its smooth and neutral consistency makes it adaptable to a variety of recipes.
Made specifically from the protein in yellow peas, you will be relieved to know that pea milk is not green and will not dye your food or drinks a greenish color.
One word of caution is that it shouldn’t be marketed as a sole replacement for whole milk in one’s diet. We present this warning because U.S. News reports that “Overall, pea milk typically doesn’t provide the same amount of nutrients that you’d get from cow’s milk or soy milk” (“Which Type of Milk is Healthiest?,” 2019). This means those who rely on it should consult a dietitian or nutritionist to see what other supplements are necessary for a healthy diet. However, if you’re just using it to cook and make drinks, your business should be okay, and customers could potentially appreciate the extra whole milk alternative.
9) Flax Milk
Made from cold-pressed flax, flax milk is ideal for coffee if you’re trying to add a milky, creamy texture without making it sweet. It does change the flavor by just slightly removing the edge from its otherwise bitter flavor and, if added while cold, by reducing its temperature. Flax milk does have a slight, but not surprising, flax-like taste. It is rich in omega-3s and contains no lactose or cholesterol. Some brands will add sugar and flavoring so read the labels before selecting if you’re trying to appeal to health-conscious consumers.
10) Hazelnut Milk
We do not recommend hazelnut milk for coffee. Its inconsistency in flavor and aftertaste makes it less than ideal for consumers. However, it is ideal for cooking, use in cereal or some smoothies, and offering as a drink option. It has a subtle, nutty flavor and is made from roasted hazelnuts.
11) Quinoa Milk
Made from water and quinoa (usually served as a grain), quinoa milk is relatively new and is not easy to find at grocery stores. It is typically more expensive than most of the other non-dairy milk products. It also isn’t your best option for coffee, cooking, or baking. It does, however, work well for porridges, oatmeal, and cereals.
It has a nutty taste and a noticeable quinoa flavor. It is softened by a unique sweetness.
It is a healthy milk substitute. Containing less fat and protein and being similar in carb count, quinoa milk has only half the calories of regular milk.
12) Peanut Milk
This interesting new experimental milk is purple. Yep, you read that right. Peanut milk, made from peanuts, is purple. It has a grassy, bitter taste so we recommend caution before purchasing it in bulk. It may not work well in coffee – who wants purple latte art that tastes like earthy peanuts? – but it could be an excellent option if you want to appeal to an adventurous crowd. Ideally, you can use it as a drink by itself or in mixed drinks.
13) Walnut Milk
Made from, well, walnuts, walnut milk does not have any unusual colors or tastes to contend with. It’s what you would expect from walnut milk. It tastes like walnuts, is thick and creamy, and is the ideal creamier and milk substitute for a cool fall or winter day.
It actually works extremely well in coffee. Typically when milk or creamer is used it is to enhance and improve the flavor of the coffee. With walnut milk, it almost works in the opposite way. The coffee enhances and brings out the full flavors of walnut milk. Definitely worth a try and being examined as a potential option to offer your customers.
14) Macadamia Milk
If you haven’t tried macadamia milk, we definitely recommend using it. It’s excellent in coffee, smoothies, cereals, or by itself. You can also cook or bake with it. It is made of water and macadamia nuts, is commonly produced in Australia and has a rich, smooth texture. It does taste slightly of macadamia nuts, but also has a slightly fruity taste. The flavor, however, is not overwhelming. It enhances coffee drinks and adds extra creaminess to whatever you put it in.
15) Banana Milk
There are actually two types of banana milk. One is when dairy milk has been flavored with bananas. For the purpose of this post, we will not be addressing it. We will just be discussing banana milk made from bananas. Occasionally flavored with cinnamon or enhanced with vitamins, banana milk does not naturally contain any lactose, calcium, or protein. It is high in sugar but offers a creamy option for those avoiding dairy. The strong banana flavor makes it somewhat of a required taste, but it is ideal for smoothies, cereals, and can be used for cooking and baking.
In summary, this post has discussed 15 dairy-free milk alternatives that can be used at your foodservice establishment to meet the needs of lactose-intolerant and vegan customers. While we’re sure there are more options (alternatives are discovered and produced often now that there’s a demand for it), these 15 are the most commonly purchased.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Also, if you need equipment to make or store the milk for your business, we have many food service solutions in stock and offer free shipping.