Food

Tried & Tested: Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives

By Liz Wootton
13.09.19

Looking for the perfect plant-based milk alternative? From simple straight-up sipping to pouring over cereal and testing with tea and coffee, the team here at Eco-Age cut no corners in their quest for the best 'mylk' around. 

With the climate crisis swiftly and surely approaching melting point, cutting out meat and dairy is being touted as one of the best things you can do to help protect the planet. Thankfully, with an increasing plethora of plant-based alternatives, this is getting easier and easier to do.

Knowing which replacements are the best, however can be the tricky part. It's now relatively easy to find plant milks and dairy-free alternatives on the supermarket shelves but knowing which will be the one for you (and the best for the planet) is a slightly more arduous task, not to mention confusing at times: who knew you could milk an almond?

Luckily, here at Eco-Age we do the heavy lifting for you. Our dedicated team of granola goddesses, tea-tasters, coffee-connoisseurs and straight sippers put a range of plant-based milks to the test. Here’s what they thought...

About the judging

The judging panel consisted of two vegans and two dairy-drinkers. Six different plant-based milks were tested on cereal, with tea and coffee, and straight up on its own. 

Alpro's Organic Soya Milk

Hailed by some as the most nutritious of the plant-based milks, in its heyday soya was the most popular (read: only) plant-based milk in town. However, as Mr Dylan said, ‘the times they are a-changin', and soya just might not be the big cheese of the plant milk world anymore. Especially considering it causes slightly more carbon emissions than its oat and almond-based cousins. 

Is soya’s taste and nutritional composition enough for it to keep its crown? Let’s hear what the tasters thought...

Julia, the Straight Sipper: On first impressions, this milk was reminiscent of childhood visits to the local petting zoo - it must have been something about the earthy smell… Sophie backed me up on this, suggesting it smelled a bit like a hamster cage which I can definitely relate to. However, the taste was delightful and the texture was great.

Ella, the Tea Taster: Surprisingly, soya complimented the tea flavour well and didn’t alter the flavour too much. It added an earthy taste, which I liked, and was a good consistency. I would score soya a three out of five. 

Sophie, the Coffee Connoisseur: When I first went plant-based, soya milk was pretty much the only milk available in supermarkets and coffee shops. Now there’s so much else available, I tend to avoid it - it has the tendency to split in coffee. If you can get over the split texture (I personally can’t) soya has a fairly neutral taste and so didn’t affect the coffee too much. An added bonus is that is often offered as a free dairy-alternative in most cafes!

Lori, the Granola Goddess: I am not normally a fan of soya milk, probably because the one time I (tried) to make a hot choc with it curdled significantly. However, it makes for delicious breakfast when paired with granola. It doesn’t have much of a taste so paired with something filled with flavour means that it does its job providing a creamy texture with limited fuss. 

Rude Health Organic Almond Drink

Milking an almond? You must be nuts! Jokes aside, after soya, almond is probably the second most mainstream of the 'mylks'. Take that, hipsters! Its nutty (and slightly sweet) flavour and creamy texture make it a popular choice to have with coffee or tea, especially if you’d normally take your brew with a sugar or two. 

However, as well as being naturally high in Vitamin E, a glass of almond milk generally contains about half the calories of a glass of skimmed cow’s milk. So, if you’re fighting for the planet while keeping an eye on the waistband, then this may just be the one. Although it is worth noting that whilst it uses less water than dairy milk to produce, almond still comes out much higher on that front than oat or soya. But then again, in terms of land-use and emissions generated, it’s one of the best. 

Over to the tasters...

Julia, the Straight Sipper: Like sniffing a fresh bowl of potpourri, this milk was full was of floral scents and tasted very sweet. As a straight sip, it was almost snack-worthy, providing a much-needed sugar hit but with quite a thin texture. I wouldn’t call it a milk, but as a refreshing drink it was just fine. 

Sophie, the Coffee Connoisseur: This almond milk was naturally a lot sweeter than I expected - perhaps due to the rice milk blend. If you enjoy a sweeter coffee then this is a good option, as it didn’t split as much as soya. Rude Health’s almond milk is, however, on the watery side and so didn’t add the creaminess to my americano that I was hoping for. 

Ella, the Tea Taster: This had a strong almond flavour which I really enjoyed and didn't overpower the taste of the tea. It would be a good substitute for sugar and had a nice aftertaste. It was a lot creamier than the soya milk. As I have a sweet tooth, I could very easily drink this in my tea and would give it a four out of five.

Lori, the Granola Goddess: Somewhat surprisingly, I really enjoyed using Rude Health’s almond milk in my granola. Almonds carry a natural sweetness that really comes through in the drink. Pairing that with the granola was a delight. While just a tad on the watery side for me, I would gladly reach for this in the morning. I think it would also be great to have with smoothies, protein shakes and milkshakes. The slightly nutty taste and natural sweetness paired with berries or chocolate protein would be delish!

Sproud Pea Milk

The marmite of plant-based milks, pea milk has the power to cause divisions amongst the firmest of friends. High in protein (it actually competes with dairy on this front) and using very little water to produce, at first pea milk seems to be the perfect choice. 

However, its chalky texture and dubious colour have the potential to scare off all but the most adventurous of eco explorers. Well, let’s hear how our intrepid tasters fared.

Julia, the Straight Sipper: The smell was a little off-putting and the colour (a grey-green) made me a little worried I’d somehow picked up a carton of runny cement for the team to try. On first sip, my worries weren’t settled - but the second sip was much more delicious. A flavour that develops, as a straight sip I’d say brace yourself.

Lori, the Granola Goddess: Pea-powered milk has been the hot topic of conversation within the plant-based community as of late. Don’t @ me but I was disappointed - perhaps my expectations were too high. To begin with, the colour is disarming; think beige with a green tinge (perhaps that was in my head…). The taste for me was quite bitter, despite it being infused with agave. It’s a shame because the consistency was great, perfectly creamy! 

Sophie, the Coffee Connoisseur: Pea milk sounds about as appealing as it tastes - earthy and a little bland, though thankfully not green. As it is blended with oat milk, it has the added benefit of not splitting in coffee. Sproud does sweeten its pea milk with agave though, so as someone who usually opts for unsweetened plant milks, this would deter me from putting this in my coffee on the regular.

Ella, the Tea Taster: Probably the coolest carton of all the options. However, I didn't enjoy the taste or the smell. The flavour of the milk completely overpowered the tea and left a bad aftertaste. I would score this a one out of five.

Plenish Organic Unsweetened Cashew Milk

Almond’s richer, more decadent sister, cashew milk’s creaminess has won it plenty of fans across the plant-based world. Like almond, it contains plenty of Vitamin E and; unlike dairy milk, it contains no naturally occurring sugar. However, unlike almonds, cashews are generally grown in regions with more water sources - the majority of almonds are grown in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley - meaning they cause less of a toll on the area’s water supply.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows - there’s a darker side to the cashew industry too. Due to increasing demand in the western world, cashew producers are being pushed to supply more and more nuts at a cheaper price. This has led to underpaid workers harvesting cashews in appalling conditions, many of whom are left with burns on their hands from the acid used to break down the shell. So, if you do choose cashew milk, make sure you purchase it from an ethical producer.

Now, for the tasters' verdicts...

Julia, the Straight Sipper: When pouring, it looked watery and I felt it was one of the thinner milks we tried. I imagine it’d be great for porridge and maybe with cereal generally (see Lori’s comments for more advice on this), but straight I wouldn’t recommend.

Ella, the Tea Taster: Probably the most watery and the most similar to regular milk, however, it did leave me with an aftertaste. I would give cashew milk a score of three out of five.

Sophie, the Coffee Connoisseur: I have had cashew milk in chai lattes and hot chocolates before so had high expectations for the level of creaminess this was going to add to my coffee. Heartbreakingly, this was not the case for Plenish’s cashew milk. The watery consistency of the milk meant it added very little to my coffee by way of texture or taste. Perhaps in a latte it would have thickened to be creamier?

Lori, the Granola Goddess: Usually I am such a fan of cashew milk as it tends to be the creamier of the nut milks and doesn't over-power the flavour of cereals. I found that Plenish, although having a delightful flavour and just the right amount of sweetness, was far too watery for my liking. While this didn’t work so well with the granola, I imagine it would be a great alternative in porridge or in a protein shake. 

KoKo Dairy Free Coconut Milk Alternative

With a distinctive taste, coconut milk was another one which caused division within the group. In terms of environmental impact, coconut milk is actually one of the best. You only need a small amount of water to produce coconuts and coconut trees also filter carbon dioxide, so it’s a win-win situation in terms of production. 

The main drawback is that it’s not particularly nutritional and contains a high level of saturated fat when compared to the other plant milk options. But, if you love the rich coconutty-flavour it lends your cuppa, then you may decide it’s worth it after all… But did the tasters?

Julia, the Straight Sipper: This was delicious. I love coconut water, and it was essentially a slightly creamier version. Super light and refreshing, I would definitely drink this straight. I imagine ice-cold first thing in the morning, it’d be a completely delicious drink to wake up to.

Ella, the Tea Taster: I cannot stand coconut water so this was a big fat ‘no’ from me. It was super strong in flavour and did not compliment the tea, although it had the creamiest consistency so I would consider trying it in a latte. I would score the coconut a one out of five.

Sophie, the Coffee Conniseaur: The natural sweetness of coconut milk makes it a firm favourite for many coffee drinkers, having been introduced to most high street cafe chains in the past few years. I personally didn’t enjoy it in my morning americano, finding it almost sickly sweet. Unsweetened alternatives are available though, so maybe this would be a better option. 

Lori, the Granola Goddess: If I’m ordering a hot-choc or a matcha, coconut milk is my go-to; it brings a bit of sweetness to the drinks that I love but I can’t say I enjoyed it with my morning granola. Coupled with the natural, fruity taste of the granola it was a little too sweet for my liking. I can imagine coupled with any contrasting flavours, coconut milk may not be best placed. It was creamier than I had anticipated and it packs a good amount of calcium and vitamins. I bet this would be great in a piña colada.

Oatly Semi-Skimmed Oat Drink

A couple of years ago, oat arrived on the plant milk scene with a bang. Since then, the hype has only got bigger and bigger and nowadays oat milk is definitely one of the trendiest ‘mylks’ in town. Suave, creamy and smooth to the extreme, oat milk is wildly popular with hipsters and baristas alike. 

What’s more, it’s popular with the planet too - having one of the lowest impacts out of all the plant-based milk alternatives. Could oat milk bag the top spot? Read on to find out what our tasters thought.

Julia, the Straight Sipper: I’ve tried this milk in coffee, but never straight. It basically tasted like overnight oats - which probably isn’t a huge surprise. Quite filling, I didn’t particularly enjoy this on its own as a drink but will continue to order oat milk flat whites from our local coffee shop. 

Lori, the Granola Goddess: Since my barista days, I have always loved oat milk for its creamy texture and ability to be formed into gorgeous latte art. With granola, it performs just as valiantly.  Oatly, in particular, is the standout milk brand for me, they simply strain a blend of oats and water together and create a milk alternative that is incredibly creamy and pairs perfectly with crunchy granola. I use it a lot when making porridge and overnight oats too - works a treat!

Sophie, the Coffee Connoisseur: Oatly is possibly one of my favourite plant-based brands on the market. Not only does their oat milk blend perfectly into coffee, neither changing the taste nor consistency, but their carton also details the carbon footprint of the product too! With the lowest environmental impact (water, land use etc) of all the non-dairy milks, oat milk gets a 100% approval for taste, texture and planet friendliness.

Ella, the Tea Taster: The oat milk was very strong in flavour and meant that the flavour of the tea came through minimally. However, the oat milk did have the best flavour so I didn’t mind that it overpowered the tea. It had a really nice consistency too. I would score the oat a strong four out of five.


And the results are in! The tasters have tested all the options and shared their opinions. It’s time to see who's top of the (plant milk) pops...

After careful consideration, the firm favourite was declared to be oat milk: its creamy flavour, versatility, great environmental credentials and smooth taste in a latte make it a clear winner. Both coconut and soya were the runners up, coming in at joint second. 

 

Try your hand at making one of these six dairy-free milks yourself.

Read more about the pros and cons of plant-based milks.

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Tried & Tested: Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives