Enter non-dairy milk—aka “milk” made from blending then filtering mashed nuts, seeds, beans or grains, and water. The best have a thick, creamy body and a singular flavor. The worst are thin, gummy, and flavored. But, even the best sometimes can’t take the heat (literally, so many of them curdle), hence why the thin, gummy ones exist. Here are 6 of the best non-dairy substitutes for milk—some are more suited for cooking and baking, others for cereal, whipping, or drinking straight.
1. Oat Milk
Oat milk is so creamy, foams well, and tastes slightly sweet (in a grain, not sugar, kind of way). It’s my go-to for cereal, cookie dunking, and even cooking. People had great success subbing it into enriched bread dough and creamy pasta sauces. It’s also the gentlest on our planet.
2. Nut Milks
Nut milks now come in a dizzying array of flavors and sweetness levels. People have found it more helpful to instead go by the nutrition label, electing for cartons with single-item ingredient lists (“almonds”) and a decently high amount of fat (which has been the surest marker of creaminess). Nut milk production is very water- and bee-demanding, so if you can avoid it, do.
3. Soy Milk
Soy milk is delicious as-is, even more so when fresh and hot, lightly sweetened, and served with fan tuan and you tiao for dipping. While its consistency is on the thinner side, People have always been struck by how “milky” soy milk tastes. There’s a big misconception about soy and its effects on one’s estrogen levels—it’s important to understand that that fear of soy is so much more about how it’s used in processed foods (in the form of soy isolate, where soybeans are stripped of all the good fibers and fats that make them a healthful whole food) to boost the protein counts.
4. Hemp Milk
Hemp milk tastes subtly sweet, grassy, and has a thin body that foams well. Like oat and soy, hemp requires little water and of the land, and has actually been proven to be beneficial to soil health.
5. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is one of the few, and perhaps only, non-dairy milks that can function as heavy cream in a recipe. Chilled coconut cream can be whipped to lofty heights—for topping berries, frosting cakes, even aerating a vegan mousse. When heated, it doesn’t curdle, making it an especially smart choice for soups, stews, or braises. Like almond milk, coconut milk is now offered by many brands in many variants.
6. Rice Milk
Rice milk is a smart choice for starchy, rice-y applications: rice pudding, grain bowls (sweet and savory), or horchata, to name a few. While homemade rice milk may be slightly more tolerant of heating than commercial, boiling can make it separate, so keep things to a simmer. Rice production is rather water-intensive and greenhouse-gas-emitting, so try to avoid going out of your way to purchase commercial rice milk.