I drank dairy milk and ate dairy products for a lot longer than I should have for the sake of my health – thanks, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and casein intolerance. These days, I have so much gratitude for the non-dairy milks that I had initially thought would be terrible substitutes and weak consolation prizes for feeling better. 

In honor of National Milk Day, I wanted to share a few of my favorite kinds of non-dairy milks and what I tend to do with them. I’m not going to go into nutrition facts or exact recipe-by-recipe guidance of which milks to use in which dishes, but instead into the general why’s and my most-used milks.

First, an explanation of why people would use non-dairy milks: There are

  • People who are vegan and abstain from any animal products; 
  • People who are lactose intolerant and don’t want to use lactase pills every time they eat foods with lactose, like dairy products; 
  • People who are casein intolerant and can’t have dairy products, even when aided by lactase, because casein (a protein in milk rather than a carbohydrate like lactose) requires a different enzyme that doesn’t currently have as reliable a dietary supplement as Lactaid; and
  • People who simply prefer the flavors and textures! 

 

Second, my tips. In general: 

  • I follow recipes’ advice for special milks if they have those as ingredients, and oftentimes online blogs have a note about non-dairy alternatives that work well as substitutes if the original ingredient is cow’s milk. 
  • When I’m at a coffee shop, I always ask which milk goes best with the drink because the baristas are wise. And if there’s a homemade milk that’s unique to the store or area, I go for it. 
  • If you’re substituting a recipe, try to stick to the original fat content of the dairy milk. For example, the texture of whole milk is very different from the texture of almond milk, which is much thinner. Thin milks won’t survive pressure cooking in general, either. 

 

Specific to my most-used milks (and there are so many more than the ones I mention here!): 

  • Soy milk is what I used the most when I first switched over. It’s the classic 1:1 replacement for cow’s milk, but it’s not the most interesting-tasting on its own and soy is a somewhat common allergy or sensitivity, which is why I stopped using it for the most part. But my favorite non-dairy yogurt has soy milk, and during the holiday season, Silk puts out an eggnog that is unbelievably good. 
  • Almond milk tends to be my go-to. It’s very common and it’s one of the most inexpensive non-dairy milks. It’s got a very subtly sweet flavor that makes it one of my favorite milks in hot drinks, including a stovetop hot chocolate recipe you can find in my dietary restriction-friendly info and recipes Google Drive folder. Try to keep in mind, though, that it has a heavy environmental impact because of the gallons of water needed to produce almonds.
  • Pea milk is the kind that Ripple is, and if you’ve never tried their chocolate milk, you need to. It’s as thick as the real thing. Also, their unsweetened original is the closest substitute I’ve found for whole milk in recipes.
  • Oat milk is what my friends raved the most about when I was asking people their opinions for this piece. It has a neutral texture and flavor, making it a good one to cook and bake with, and it’s also great in hot drinks and oatmeal (welcome home). Oatly chocolate ice cream is my favorite readily-available non-dairy ice cream because it’s creamy rather than watery and icy.
  • Coconut milk is fun to use in baking. There’s a full-fat canned version that has a similar texture to condensed milk. There’s also a more typical milk option that can add a nice flavor to simpler recipes.

 

If you drink non-dairy milk only because you’re lactose intolerant, you also have another option: Lactaid milk, which is dairy milk that has lactase enzymes put in it to make it digestible. It has a very similar taste and texture to cow’s milk and might become your cooking and baking go-to. They also have yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little run-down! Go eat or make something delicious.

Emmie Arnold

Emmie Arnold (she/her/hers) is a hospital chaplain in New York; a Reverend in the PC(USA); avid cook; traveler (on hiatus); friend and family member to many; writer; and musician.

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