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It’s been about five years since I swapped out my daily whole milk latte, buttered croissant, and Greek yogurt breakfast for a completely dairy-free start to my morning. After I realized that my excessive dairy consumption might be contributing to my frequent hormonal acne breakouts, I started cutting out the painfully delicious food group from my diet bit by bit.
Dairy-free alternatives have come a long way since I began this lifestyle change five years ago, with new plant-based milks sprouting up along grocery aisles nationwide almost every day. And it’s not just pimples that are turning consumers away from cow’s milk. "I believe consumers are becoming aware of the environmental impacts of dairy on our food system and environment, leading them to consume less of it," explains Anna Gustafson, a Minneapolis-based registered dietician and nutrition advisor for Zippy Pantry. "Also, humans naturally become more lactose intolerant (if we weren't already) as we age because our bodies produce less of the lactase enzyme that helps digest lactose (the naturally-occurring sugar in milk)."
Another reason folks might be choosing plants over cows just comes down to the novelty factor of it all. "People are always experimenting in the kitchen with different spices and types of produce, so a new type of nut or other plant-based ‘milk’ can be a fun way to try something new—whether it's in a latte or savory dish," says Gustafson.
The Versatility of Alternative Milks
From oat milk to almond milk to "plant-based" milks containing several ingredients straight from the ground, there are so many varieties of alt-milks available. They’re now being offered in different delivery systems, too. Alt-milks are moving beyond just liquid form and into convenient powders, frozen cubes, and even whipped consistencies (think: Cool Whip, but lactose-free).
"Versatility is everything, which is why the different varieties of nut milk are so exciting," explains Gustafson. "Powdered nut milks can be super beneficial in baking or in any recipe where you want to add some creaminess without adding extra liquid—it can also be handy if you want a coffee creamer that doesn't need to be stored in the fridge, like when you're traveling or in case the power goes out."
Versatility is everything, which is why the different varieties of nut milk are so exciting.
Frozen nut milks are another option to traditional liquid milks. "Frozen nut milks are convenient for smoothies, so you don't have to add both milk and ice cubes, which can lead to ice chunks and a sad, watered-down smoothie," says Gustafson. "They would also be great in iced coffee for the same reason."
Nut pastes are a new favorite of Ashleigh Fabian’s, a Tampa-based registered dietician, founder of Rooted Life Foods, and nutrition advisor for Zippy Pantry. "You can get a tub [of nut paste], such as Joi, delivered to your door, add water, and blend," says Fabian. "This saves money and reduces your carbon footprint. It typically uses only one to two ingredients, usually has a slightly higher protein content, and has a longer shelf life."
The Future of Alternative Milks
According to Gustafson, we will see more pea and legume-based milk alternatives in the dairy aisles because they are not only very nutritious (their nutrition profile is most similar to that of cow’s milk, especially when it comes to protein), but also they are so versatile in foods like curries, savory dishes, and adding extra nutrition into beverages. "Another one I see on the rise is hemp milk," says Gustafson. "Hemp seeds are very nutritious and naturally contain high amounts of complete protein and heart-healthy fats," explains Gustafson. "If we can make 'milk' out of nuts, oats, legumes, and seeds, who says we couldn't see plant milks derived from algae in the next few years?"
We will see more pea and legume-based milk alternatives in the dairy aisles because they are not only very nutritious but also they are so versatile in foods.
The way that plant-based milks are packaged and delivered will also see a rising change too. "I think the plant-based milk section will continue to skyrocket, and we can expect to see more eco-packaging (more compostable and biodegradable solutions), more seed-based milks, more companies in the grocery store using plant-based milks in their products, and I think fruit-milk (which will likely be paired with a bean or seed) will become popular," says Fabian.
My Favorite Alternative Milk Innovations
Below, I tried the latest alt-milk innovations on the market to see how they’re packaged, how they work, and most importantly, how they taste.
These frozen almond milk cubes from Daily Harvest are such a cool innovation, and I can see these becoming popular very soon. The cubes come frozen in packets of eight, and two wedges will make eight ounces of almond milk when you mix it with water. These are a great addition to any Daily Harvest smoothie (or a DIY smoothie of your choosing) and can also be added to an iced coffee (hold the ice, of course). Daily Harvest currently offers two flavors—almond and almond + vanilla—and they both have minimal ingredients. We’re talking zero gums and fillers—just nuts, water, Himalayan sea salt, and vanilla bean if you choose the almond + vanilla flavor.
When I tested this pick, I added the cubes and water to a blender and blended them together to create a creamier consistency. I think blending it is the way to go, rather than just diluting it in water and stirring it around. Surprisingly, my boyfriend loved this alt-milk pick and used it in his cereal and fifteen cups of coffee he downs daily. For reference, he’s a Midwesterner who lives off of meat, potatoes, and his daily glass of cow’s milk, so him opting for any type of plant-based milk is a big deal.
I’ll be honest; I’m not the biggest fan of oat milks in general. I’m not sure what it is, but I prefer almond and coconut over oat milk any day. That being said, I did really like these powdered oat creamers from NOD and tested both the vanilla and unsweetened flavors in a few cups of coffee. What’s so great about these packets is that they are so easy to travel with. I can see myself bringing them along if I’m traveling and staying at a hotel where they only have those sketchy non-refrigerated liquid creamers (you know what I’m talking about) alongside the hotel room coffee maker. They don’t taste powdery at all, and I feel like oat-milk fans will love this gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan creamer.
So this one was the problem child of the bunch—until I learned how to properly mix it. These alt-milks come in frozen concentrates, so you can pop them out of the freezer whenever you want to make a quart of "mylk." You’ll have to let the concentrate defrost in the refrigerator overnight before you can start mixing the water and liquid. When I first tested this out, I followed the package instructions and just added the concentrate to the quart bottle along with the 22 ounces of filtered water. Then I shook the bottle and tried it. It tasted watery, and the concentrate started to fall to the bottom of the bottle after about an hour.
The package instructions say you can stir, shake, or blend the concentrate and water. I tried defrosting another package and blending the water and concentrate together in my blender. Blending them was the magic trick here, and I don’t recommend using these without a blender unless you want watery milk. Once I blended them, the taste was amazing, and I love that this "mylk" doesn’t have any binders, fillers, gums, or preservatives.
The "mylk" comes in four different flavors: original almond "mylk", pure (unsweetened) almond "mylk," super oat "mylk," and hemp "mylk." I love that the sweetened flavors use dates to add a taste of sugar, rather than actual sugar cane. Also, it’s important to note that since these don’t contain preservatives, the "mylk" will have a shelf-life of five days only once you defrost the packet—so drink up!
Ever since I stopped eating dairy years ago, I was able to avoid my nightly habit of downing a few scoops of ice cream. Then, Eclipse plant-based ice cream showed up at my door, and now I’m in big trouble. This stuff is so damn good, and I’m in love with the Cookie Butter Ice Cream flavor, specifically. I feel like I could easily trick my boyfriend into believing these sweet treats are made with cow’s milk, and I’m definitely concerned about how addicting this plant-based ice cream is becoming each night. I love that more brands are creating ice creams without cow’s milk because I feel like many plant-based ice creams were not cutting it for me the last few years—this one hits different, though.
I had never tried pistachio milk before tasting this treat, and I am so sad that I hadn’t. I have no other way to describe this blend other than tasting ultra-luxurious. The alt-milk is a perfect combination of nutty, creamy, and a tad bit sweet, and I could taste the faintest note of pistachio in my coffee, black tea, and smoothies. Also, this rich milk frothed up nicely when I used a milk frother, too. If you’re not into added sweeteners, this brand does offer an unsweetened blend, too.
I didn’t know what to expect from this plant-based milk alternative, which has been lauded and backed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. With ingredients like pea protein, pineapple juice concentrate, and cabbage juice concentrate, you would think it would taste pretty nasty, but it tastes very similar to cow’s milk. The smell, texture, and taste of NotMilk match pretty well with your standard whole cow’s milk, and I enjoyed adding this one into my English breakfast tea. I feel like this pick would be an excellent substitute for any recipes that call for cow’s milk, like creamy soups or stews.
My favorite dessert as a kid was strawberry shortcake, and while I haven’t tried this frozen topping as a replacement for whipped cream, I do think it would be a great replacement if I were to recreate my beloved childhood treat. This is an interesting innovation because it’s not quite an ice cream, nor is it a liquid. It comes frozen and can be eaten straight out of the tub if you prefer to eat it like ice cream, or you can let it thaw in the fridge for four hours and add it to any ice cream or other dessert as a whipped topping. I like to thaw this one out and add it to a bowl of berries for a healthy-ish dessert at the end of the night. The product does need to stay frozen to stay fresh, so if you do thaw it out, you’ll need to pop it back into the freezer once you’re done. But, you can refreeze it as many times as you need.
I know that this isn’t necessarily an innovative alternative milk, considering it's just a mixture of almond milk and coconut milk. Still, it’s a brand I’ve been using for years and can’t live without. I add Nutpods to everything, including my black tea, smoothies, soups, mac and cheese bowls, coffee, curry, and baked goods. This pick has a thick texture (think: similar to half-and-half). I love that it’s unsweetened but still manages to taste rich, creamy, and delicious. It comes in small cartons, which allows me to open one carton and not worry that I have to use a ton of it before it goes bad. I’m seriously nuts about the Nupods Original Creamer (sorry, I had to).