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A Plant Based Milk Guide: Taste, Nutrition and Environmental Impact

Plant -Based Milk Guide

Got Milk?  Remember the marketing strategy around dairy milk in the ’80s? Well, fast forward to 2021, plant-based milk sales have grown over 60 percent since 2012 and continue to gain popularity. A glass of dairy milk produces almost three times more greenhouse gas than any plant-based milk. But vegan options have drawbacks of their own.

We are going nuts over alternative milk,

and that’s nothing to moo about.

 

Either you are motivated by health, inspired by taste, or concerned for the environment, we can all agree on alternative milk, and they are here to stay. When making the best choice for your tastebuds, health, and environmental impact, it can become an overwhelming decision.  I looked into some research to help guide you, including a universal method to make homemade milk. (See video tutorial at the end of blog)

 

Nut MYLKS

Nut Milk APPEAR TO BE THE most familiar and common of other milk.  The list includes Almond, Cashews, Walnuts, Pistachios, and so on; for this category, I chose Hazelnut as it is a better option over Almond Milk for environmental impact.

Environmental Impact

Hazelnuts are environmentally superior to almonds. The wind rather than commercial honeybees pollinate them, and they grow in moist climates, such as the Pacific north-west, where water is less of an issue.  Another issue, 80 percent of nuts used in almond milk are grown in drought-prone California, yet it takes over a gallon of water to produce a single almond.  It’s in good practice to give other nuts a blend instead.

Taste/Nutrition

Hazelnut milk is creamy and rich and has a lot of body. Plus, it doesn’t have that bitterness that many tend to associate with regular almond milk or other nut milk, so it’s good for newbies. It’s delicious cold in a glass or, for special occasions, chocolate milk and coffee lattes.  I say special occasion because they are on the expensive side, but the value is in their environmental impact.

Great tasting for kids and adult kids alike for after-school chocolate milk tastes like Nutella to delicious morning and healthy coffee lattes. They are nutrient-dense in zinc and magnesium, two minerals lacking in our diets necessary for many functions in our bodies.

Technique

Hazelnuts need to soak overnight 8 to 10 hours for best tasting less gritty milk.  Why? Nuts and seeds contain substances that prevent them from sprouting prematurely when growing, but these substances interfere with our ability to absorb their nutrients. However, soaking nuts and seeds causes these anti-nutrient substances to neutralize for better nutrient absorption and ease indigestion.

If you are looking for a shorter soak time, then go with cashews that take only 2hours of soak time, tasty and healthy.

And this leads me to the next category – seed milk, and the good news I choose one that has no soak time and no straining!

Seed MYLKS

Seed Milk is gaining in popularity. You may have noticed in your grocery stores the following: pumpkin, sunflower, white sesame, and hemp.  I choose Hemp for you today because, hands down, homemade tastes better than commercial brands.

Environmental Impact

It’s the most environmentally friendly option, requiring no pesticides and little water to grow. And it won’t split in hot drinks like you might have noticed others do.

Taste/Nutrition

You have to adjust your taste buds – it will end with a nutty almost grassy note.  If you know this upfront, you won’t try to compare it to dairy.  Try using additional ingredients like cinnamon, turmeric, and maple syrup, and then adjust these accordingly to your taste preferences.  Give it a try because it’s worth it.

Nutritionally, what makes hemp a great non-dairy alternative is that it naturally contains calcium (more calcium than dairy milk!), protein and has the added benefits of omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids in the ideal 1:3 ratio that promotes brain and heart health and is anti-inflammatory in the body.  A great option for people who are not eating fish or looking to reduce inflammation in the body.

Technique

Fast and easy to prepare with no soaking necessary or straining – it takes little than five minutes. Great in a pre-workout green smoothie!

 

Grain MYLKS

This consists of rice, quinoa, spelt, really any grain – but of course, the famous Oat Milk is our favorite. Oat milk has risen to 29 million, up from 4.4 million in 2017.

Environmental Impact

Like most plant-based milk, it takes a lot of energy to turn oats into milk. Oats, however, contribute less carbon to the atmosphere than other plants and require less water to grow. For example, it takes six times as much water to grow almonds as it does oats. This lessens the environmental hazards in the oat industry, making it a sustainable milk alternative. Oats are grown in cooler climates such as the northern US and Canada and are therefore not associated with deforestation in developing countries. The only drawback with this trendy and guilt-free option is that most oats come from mass-produced, monoculture operations where they are sprayed with the Roundup pesticide right before harvest.

Taste/Nutrition

Oat milk is thicker and naturally sweeter than many non-dairy kinds of milk (think somewhere between 2 percent and whole milk) but still light.

Technique

Oat milk is super easy to make at home.  It is creamy, sweet, and pairs well with almost any hot drink, porridge, or baking needs.  If you are picky regarding the texture, it is best to start with cold water and add enzymes to the universal recipe.  See the video tutorial below.

 

Legume MYLKS

It is a class of vegetables that includes soy, peas, and lentils, and they are among the most versatile and nutritious foods available.

The most popular legume milk is soy milk, but now ….

Pea Milk

Pea milk is one of the newest non-dairy milk on the market and might not be as easy to find as some other plant milk. Instead of using whole peas, this plant-based milk is made with pea protein powder. This gives this milk its high protein content and thicker consistency. Currently, two companies, Ripple and Bolthouse Farms, are producing pea milk you may find at your supermarket.

Environmental Impact

Better yet, pea protein milk is a great option for eco-conscious consumers. Peas can often grow without irrigation and are easily rotated by farmers, naturally fixing nitrogen in the soil and reducing artificial fertilizers’ need. Growing peas require up to six times less water than almonds, and this milk alternative has a much smaller carbon footprint than dairy.

Taste/Nutrition

Pea milk is derived from pea protein and offers a similar amount of protein and fat as regular whole milk (eight and five grams, respectively) but no carbohydrates. It’s also high in calcium-containing, almost twice the amount found in cow’s milk—as well as potassium. Its high protein content is a great postworkout, specially blended in a smoothie with some fruit for added carbs.

Technique

Pea milk is perhaps more labor-intensive to make at home.  You will have to cook the peas according to the pea package after soaking the legume overnight and then follow the universal recipe of homemade milk.  Usually, the taste is off and less consistent than store-bought commercial pea milk; if your tastebuds are new to alternative milk, best not to make this at home.

 

Bottom line

Diversity is best

One thing is clear. All milk alternatives are far better for the planet than commercial factory-farmed dairy. There will be trade-offs, so I always recommend mixing it up for taste, technique, and environmental impact. Organic, pesticide-free, and non-GMO puts less of a burden on our soils. Nutritionally, when you look at plant-based milk, one falls short on protein, one falls short on fat, one falls short on calcium. Overall, it matters to change eating patterns for more diversity in nutrients and avoid any market demand for alternative milk that may become overexploited.


Homemade Non-Dairy Mylk


*Makes about 4 1/2 cups*
Use 1 cup soaked nut, optional to use seed, grain, or legume
Use 3 to 4 cups water (3 for something richer and thicker, 4 if you’re straining, or if
you’d like a thinner consistency)
1 Pinch salt
For sweet milk: 1 t0 2 pitted Medjool dates or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For flavored milk: 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 2 teaspoons cocoa powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoon pumpkin spice, 1/4 teaspoon cardamom… the possibilities are endless.


 

 

 

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