Ditching Dairy: guide to plant-based milks

As an omnivore, I was a big fan of almond milk. Mild and nutty, I loved a cool glass to complement my cookies.

Going vegan, however, switching to plant milk was neither quick nor easy. I didn’t like the subtle sweetness of soy, oat, or almond in my cuppa, and grew frustrated with milks that separated in the brew. On the other hand, switching out dairy on cereal and porridge was easy as pie.

I’ve tried the vast majority of milk alternatives out there, and have developed a discriminating taste for which variety and brand suits me best. I’m going to go into a little detail here; so feel free to scroll through. Before, though, here a few tips to factor in when making the switch:

  • One milk does not fit all. I have a preferred variety for tea, milky coffees, hot chocolate, and porridge. If you can drink it fast enough, keep two bottles at a time.
  • Your tastes will probably differ from your dairy-ditching friends’ tastes.
  • It’s been surprising to note the difference in quality between brands, and between organic and non-organic varieties. Organic in general tastes better.

If you’re considering making the switch to dairy, you’ve probably come across the whole almond-milk-stunts-bone-growth argument. The media love to point out, in its regular vegan-thrashing, that calcium doesn’t occur naturally in plant milks as it does in dairy. However, plant milks fortified with calcium contain the same amount as cow’s milk (120mg per 250ml), as well as added B12 and vitamin D.

So, unless you’re sure that you are getting enough calcium through the rest of your diet or supplementation, it’s best to choose fortified plant milks. There’s also been a fuss about the vegan diet lacking iodine, because of the absence of dairy. I’ve personally decided to take an iodine supplement until the research is clearer.

Almond milk.

  • Almond Breeze – un/sweetened. This was the very first non-dairy milk I ever tried – and it’s probably one of my least favourites. I’ve always found Almond Breeze to be too strong in taste, not subtle at all, so not great in breakfast or drinks. I can recall pouring myself a glass one evening from a carton that had been opened longer than it should, and recoiling at the strange artificiality in the taste – down the sink it went. 2/5
  • Rude Health almond milk – un/sweetened.  At £1.99 / litre, it’s expensive, but the flavour is very pure and very clean. However, after their recent media suicide – “…vegetarianism and veganism, promising to save you from cancer and early death and save the animals while you’re at it, if you believe What the Health, Okja and other propaganda films masquerading as documentaries on Netflix” – you probably don’t want to support this brand. 5/5 for flavour alone!
  • Alpro unroasted, unsweetened almond milk. This tastes, as my vegan friend put it, “of nothing”, but leaves a hint of marzipan in the mouth. It went well over cereal, but needed a considerable dose of maple syrup in an iced latte; and it didn’t do well in my morning coffee. I’m not a fan, but suggest it to someone looking for a mild milk for breakfast cereals and porridge. 2/5

Soy milk.

  • The most reliable plant-based milk out there. Some say there’s an aftertaste, some say not. There’s a lot of variation between brands, however.
  • Supermarket brand un/sweetened UHT soy milk. As the cheapest and the most versatile, this is the stuff I buy every week.  Make sure you allow boiling water to cool for half a minute before adding the milk. It’s less likely to separate, although inexplicably the water at uni (hard, as at home) reacted differently. Although at first sniff, it’s got a peculiarly sour odour, this doesn’t manifest in taste. I find it completely flavourless in tea and coffee, although a bit bland on cereal.  4/5
  • Alpro Original soy milk. A go-to milk: great in cereal, in porridge, and in hot chocolate. In tea and coffee, there’s only a very, very mild sweetness. Compared to supermarket sweetened soya, it’s got a much better taste. 5/5
  • Co-op organic soya milk. This is wonderfully creamy, and very tasty: fantastic in porridge, smoothies, and hot drinks, or even just by itself. Although it’s not fortified, the milk has a good, pure taste, with a subtle nutty hint devoid of any artificial ingredients. 4/5
  • Alpro Dark Chocolate Soy milk. This is one you’ll find it hard to keep your hands off. Thick, sweet, and decadent, I love slurping on the child-sized carton of this. Yes, it’s sugary, so maybe it’s not one to drink every day, but if you’re missing chocolate milkshakes, please give this a go. Drinking it makes me thirsty, unsurprisingly, and there are some strange added ingredients on the back of the carton. 3/5 

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    Soy milk hot chocolate

Oat milk.

  • Oatly oat milk. A firm favourite of mine. It’s creamy; sweet, but not too sweet; is great in coffee (although occasionally separates in my tea); it makes a good porridge; and its barista version can’t be beaten in cappuccinos or lattes. I opt for the non-organic, as the organic isn’t fortified. The Oatly team also win in terms of marketing: they are umatched in promoting dairy-free alternatives. Their chocolate milk is also one to try. 5/5
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Delicious oat milk cappuccino

Cashew milk.

  • Alpro Cashew milk. This is a less traditional offering to the nut milk scene, and it’s a good one. Cashew milk has a slightly less nutty taste than almond milk, and is less sweet; and, somehow, it’s thicker and creamier than most milks. I can drink it straight in a glass, as well as over cereal. 4/5

Hazelnut milk.

  • Alpro Hazelnut milk. Creamy and a fair bit sweeter than soy, hazelnut milk has a light brown colour, and is lovely hot or cold. I wouldn’t put it in porridge, as I prefer to sweeten my oats with fruit with a liberal dose of peanut butter, but on cereal, it’s a winner. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near tea, although it makes a fantastic hot chocolate.  3/5

Hemp milk.

  • Good Hemp milk. This is definitely a less popular milk, and I can see why. It’s got an unusual, marzipan-like flavour, with a strange sort of metallic aftertaste. The one I tried was unsweetened, but I didn’t much like it in my breakfast. One thing I noticed was the fat content – 2.5g per 100ml, compared to Alpro soy milk’s 1.8g per 100ml. It’s creamy, for this reason. One glass apparently contains 50% of your day’s intake of omega-3s, which is great; but I’d rather stick to soy. 1/5

Rice milk.

  • Alpro rice milk. I’m not quite sure how anyone gets on with this. It’s very sweet, and quite thin; so not ideal for drinks, or cereal. 1/5

Coconut milk.

  • I can’t give an opinion here: I don’t get on with coconut at all! From what I’ve heard, though, it’s creamy and great in a milky coffee.

I hope that this post has been useful for anyone looking for advice on which plant milk to try!

Hackney Downs vegan market

At the dawn of this new year, the vegan movement continues to make waves. Worldwide, thousands are sailing through Veganuary. In the UK, vegan options continue to increase, including Tesco’s new range of ready meals, sandwiches, and pizza. In Australia, Dominoes have launched a range of vegan pizzas, including one topped with avocado.

I’m excited for the year ahead and the developments it will bring for veganism. I want to see the movement gain an even stronger foothold in mainstream media. The rise of vegan convenience and ‘junk’ food, especially, should help shed the image of veganism as a faddy diet.

Which brings me to the Hackney Downs vegan market, another relatively recent development. Organised by Fat Gay Vegan and EAT WORK ART, it’s now held every Saturday from 11am to 5pm. There are regular traders, with preference given to businesses run by women and members of the LGBT and BME community.

You’ve most likely heard of Temple of Seitan, Hackney’s finest vegan chicken store. It’s been a massive hit among vegans and omnivores alike. Although I’ve never been inside, I’ve passed the shop and carried on walking at the sight of the queue, snaking way out of the door.

This week, Temple of Seitan had a stall alongside the likes of Eat Chay (Vietnamese cuisine) and Young Vegans (vegan pies). My friend and I came over for the first time and marvelled at the offerings. A connoisseur of vegan cheeses and meats, my friend queued up twice for Temple’s mac n cheese. Judging by the silence as she ate, it was very good. I did sample a spear of pasta from each of hers – one slathered with barbecue sauce and studded with chick’n – but the smell of coconut-based cheese had gotten to me. I’ve a very strong nose for coconut, which I detest in vegan cheese, after a particularly bad experience making my own macaroni. But my friend, and many many others, love the Temple. By 3.30pm, the stall was sold out.

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Barbecue mac n cheese

I opted instead for a lentil curry from Rupert’s Street, who also offered sweet potato latkes and tofu wraps. I’m a big fan of lentils, and on this particularly cold day, it was exactly what I needed. Warm, satiating, and flavoursome, I’d highly recommend this curry if you’re popping by.

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Lentil curry with brown rice

We also stopped by Hell.Yum!, and took advantage of an irresistible three for £5 offer on cookies. I picked up salted chocolate, chocolate and walnut, and white chocolate and macadamia, telling myself that I’d share these at home. This I did not, finishing the bag contentedly by myself.

The final purchase for me was a cup of mulled cider from Clarkshaw’s Brewing. Very sweet and warming.

If you’re interested in top vegan cuisine, healthy or not, pop along to Hackney Downs vegan market. Details of each market are made available on Fat Gay Vegan’s website or on the Facebook page. Arrive promptly – after 1pm, it gets increasingly busy!

Photos courtesy of @_rhiannonnorman.