Not sure if you’re choosing the right milk drink for tea, coffee or cooking? Here’s our round-up of the best plant-based milk to suit your tastebuds and daily lifestyle.
Have you ever pondered what the perfect plant milk for tea or coffee is?
How about in baking? Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian or lactose-intolerant, keep reading to find out which plant milk pairing will make your day taste better!
Why opt for an alternative?
Some people may decide to try non-dairy milk for the first time or make the full-on switch to plant-based milk because they fancy a change, whereas others may do so for health or lifestyle reasons.1
One of the main reasons for drinking non-dairy milk over dairy milk is deciding to follow a vegan, non-animal derived diet.
And seeing as dairy milk typically comes from cows or sheep, it’s one of the products that’s not found within the vegan diet.
In the meantime, the reasons for people drinking milk alternatives are extremely varied.
Some people are allergic to dairy milk (usually the lactose) and wind up getting a bad stomach, headaches or allergic reactions when they drink it.
Others may switch from dairy because they don’t like the texture or the way it tastes or smells.
Common reasons to drink milk alternatives – at a glance
- Lactose intolerance
- Milk allergy
- Don’t like milk, but still need some form of milk for cooking
- Vegan diet or lifestyle
- Crohns and colitis or inflammatory bowel syndrome
- Concerns over antibiotics, pesticides or hormones
- Ethical reasons
What milk alternative tastes the most like milk?
Ooohh, now that’s a very good question!
Actually, is it even possible for a milk alternative to replicate the taste of milk?
Well, we’ve done some research and word on the street is that of all the plant milk options out there, it’s soy that happens to taste the most like milk.2
On the whole, this particular variety of vegan milk is mild and creamy, just like milk!
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the level of mildness and creaminess can vary, depending on the brand of soy milk you buy.
Soy milk is made from soaking and grinding soy beans and has been a traditional part of the Asian diet for thousands of years.3
Soy tends to be that teeny bit sweeter tasting than the other milk alternatives out there too. So if you want to make the switch to a milk alternative, but don’t want to actually taste the swap, soy milk’s most certainly your best bet.
Of course, there’s no stopping you from sampling all of the various plant milk options yourself, and then deciding on the best milk substitute based on your personal preference.
Boxes of soy milk are usually kept on supermarket shelves and not in the fridges, meaning it usually has a long lifespan.
But once you’ve opened a carton of soy milk, you have around 5 to 7 days to use it.
Just like dairy milk, if soy milk goes off, you’ll know about it because it will slightly smell and the texture will change when you pour it.
Handpicked content: Benefits of soya drink
What's the healthiest alternative milk?
In a nutshell, dairy milk tends to best when it comes to nutrient quality, and soy (soy again!) is believed to be a good substitute from a nutrition provision perspective.4
Dairy milk health qualities
Dairy milk provides us with important nutrients, including calcium, protein, Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, riboflavin (B2), zinc, phosphorus, and iodine.
It plays an important role in bone health and is a particularly rich source of dietary calcium.
Soy milk health qualities
Soy (full and low fat) milk is a good source of plant protein, carbohydrates and B vitamins.
Most brands of soy milk have been fortified with calcium, making them nutritionally comparable to dairy milk.
Soy milk also typically contains more protein than other plant-based alternatives and contains healthy unsaturated fats, as well as fibre.
Almond milk health qualities
Nut drinks, such as almond milk are mainly made from ground nuts and water.
Almonds are recognised as being a good source of protein.
Almond milk is low in saturated fat and contains some healthy unsaturated fats, as well as Vitamin E, manganese, zinc and potassium.
Beware though – some almond milks contain quite a bit of sugar, so keep an eye on those sugar content stats…
Oat milk health qualities
Oat milk is a source of fibre, Vitamin E, folate and riboflavin.
It’s also low in fat and is naturally sweet, containing double the carbohydrates of cow’s milk, which means it may not be suitable for people with diabetes.
Oat milk can also be low in protein and calcium, so where possible, look for brands that have been fortified with protein and calcium to maintain these levels.
For more on the health benefits associated with oat milk, check out this article, ‘Oat milk health benefits.’
Coconut milk health qualities
Coconut milk is low in protein and carbohydrates, but high in saturated fat.
Some brands of coconut milk also contain added sugars too.
As with nut drinks, it doesn’t naturally contain calcium and therefore isn’t a suitable nutritional substitute for dairy milk.
Rice milk health qualities
Rice milk is naturally high in carbohydrates and sugars, and has a high glycaemic index.
This means the glucose it contains is quickly released into the blood, meaning it may not be suitable for people with diabetes.
It’s also particularly low in protein and needs to be calcium-fortified. Rice is the least likely to trigger allergies of all of the milk alternatives.
11 of the best milk alternatives
- Oat milk
- Soy/soya milk
- Hemp milk
- Almond milk
- Rice milk
- Cashew milk
- Coconut milk
- Pea milk
- Flax milk
- Walnut milk
- Hazelnut milk
Best milk alternative for tea
Tea fans, rejoice, you can still enjoy a satisfying cuppa when you switch to dairy-free milk!
The first step is to choose a milk alternative that won’t curdle in boiling water, and doesn’t overwhelm the delicate flavour of tea.
Oat milk wins the prize, according to the charity Veganuary.5
This is because it happens to be stable at high temperatures and tastes neutral.
Plus it’s low in fat and high in beta glucan, a type of soluble fibre that can help lower levels of cholesterol.6
Try: Oatly Milk (Healthy Calcium & Vitamin Enriched)
Best milk alternative coffee
Like tea, your cup of joe also needs a creamy milk that doesn’t split in hot water – so step forward hemp milk.
Made from whole hemp seeds, it has a subtle nutty flavour, and is a source of essential fatty acids.
It’s also a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids your body needs.7
Not sure about the slightly nutty taste? Grab a carton of soya milk instead.
Try: GOOD Hemp Drink
Top tip for making a cup of tea or coffee: Let it cool down and constantly stir whilst pouring the hemp milk in, otherwise it will separate and curdle, and you’ll have to start all over again!
Best milk alternative for porridge
With its creamy texture and sweet flavour, coconut milk is perfect for porridge.
Made from mixing coconut flesh with water, it’s low in sugar, but also a source of saturated fat, so consume in moderation.8
A 2013 study reported it can reduce levels of unhealthy cholesterol and raise levels of good cholesterol.9
Try: Rude Health Organic Coconut Drink
Best milk alternative for baking
It’s important to choose a plant milk that complements the other flavours in your cakes and desserts.
However, creamier nut plant milks – such as hazelnut, cashew and coconut milks – will add a sweet flavour and therefore may make your baking too sweet.
Vegan bakers recommend hazelnut milk – it contains Vitamin E, which is needed for healthy cells, is low in calories and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.10
Try: Rude Health Organic Hazelnut Drink
Best milk alternative for smoothies
For a tasty, slightly nutty smoothie, you need almond milk, made from ground almonds mixed with water.
It’s low in calories and saturated fat, and, like hazelnut milk, is naturally high in Vitamin E too.11
Try: Pip & Nut Unsweetened Almond Drink
Best milk alternative for white sauce
Making a vegan lasagne?
Soya milk won’t curdle when heated, but has a neutral flavour that complements the sauce – though of course you’ll need the unsweetened version for a savoury dish.
It’s a solid milk health-wise too – it contains as much protein as cow’s milk, is low in saturated fat and a source of potassium, which contributes to normal functioning of the immune systemfor healthy nerves.12,13
Try: Holland & Barrett Organic Soya Drink Unsweetened
Best milk alternative for hot chocolate
Love a hot chocolate before bed (or any time of day, come to think of it?!)
Hazelnut milk is thick and creamy and the taste isn’t too dissimilar to chocolate milkshake.
It also happens to make a delicious hot chocolate with a hazelnut hit.
Try: Rude Health Chocolate Hazelnut Drink (for a double chocolate boost!)
Best milk alternative for pancakes
You can use oat milk to make an even oatier-tasting bowl porridge or pop some in your pancakes. Even better, why not give this three-ingredient recipe a go?
Oat milk pancakes recipe
- 300g wholewheat flour
- 300g oat milk
- 1.5 tbsp of egg replacer or 1 egg
- 50g water (if not using 1 egg)
- Lemon juice (optional)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda (optional, only use if you're also using lemon juice)
- Oil for frying
Mix the flour, milk, egg (replacer) and lemon juice until you've got a smooth batter. The batter should be thin enough to just slightly spread out, but it shouldn't flow easily. It should be firm enough so you can scoop it on to the hot pan.
Leave it to stand until you need to use it (max. 30 minutes, otherwise store it covered in the fridge until you need it). This helps hydrate the flours and the egg replacer.
Add the baking powder and baking soda. Adding these at the end prevents them from doing their work well before the pancakes are in the pan.
Heat a pan on a medium fire and depending on the type of pan you're using, coat it with a little oil.
Take a good serving spoon full of batter and place it on the pan, flatten slightly if necessary.
Add your topping to the pancake, do this when they're still pretty liquid so the toppings have a good hold on to the pancake. Since these pancakes are quite thick it is easy to add quite a lot of topping without breaking them upon flipping!
Turn the pancake when the top looks like it is just starting to set. At this point it should be easy to flip without everything breaking apart.
Bake until the pancake is fully cooked, all you need is a few more minutes on a medium heat at this point.
Things to consider when using a substitute
If you’re planning on drinking dairy-free milk, you’ll most probably have gauged by now that there are quite a few different options to choose from.
There’s an awful lot of advice, research and key findings about all of the different milk alternatives out there too.
So, given all this, what are the main points to think about when selecting the best milk alternative for you?
First and foremost, take your time when deciding which milk alternative to drink; you may even find that you have to try a few until you settle on just one.
Or you may decide to stock up and use different plant milks for different things – e.g. soya milk for your white sauce, oat milk for your tea, hazelnut milk for your baking, and so on…
But if you’re wondering what the key things to consider when using a milk substitute are, then it’s most definitely got to be:14
The sugar content
As we mentioned a bit earlier, some plant milks do contain added sugar.
So make sure you check those sugar content levels and, if you can, always choose the unsweetened version, if there’s an unsweetened version available.
Most non-dairy milk is fortified with minerals and vitamins, such as calcium, Vitamin B12 and D.
Again, check those labels, and if the milk has been fortified in these areas and more, that’s a good thing.
What may taste good to some people, may not taste good to others; it’s all a question of personal preference.
You may prefer a nuttier flavour or a sweet aftertaste, and with all the different plant milks on the market, we’re sure you’ll find a plant milk that hits the spot.
A final few words about milk alternatives…
Gone are the days when people drank dairy milk and nothing else.
In recent years, more-and-more plant-based alternatives have arrived on the market, providing people with even more non-dairy milk options.
It’s now also possible to ask for your hot drinks to be made with non-dairy milk when you grab a takeaway coffee, tea, hot chocolate or other hot beverage of your choice.
Plant milk is on the rise and it’s matching milk in areas, such as taste, thickness and nutrition.
There are pros and cons to all of these milk alternatives, some are naturally sweeter, some have been fortified with calcium and vitamins, and some happen to contain more sugar.
Making the switch to milk alternatives is a journey, but it’s an incredibly interesting one in which there are lots of different routes (plant milks) to explore.
More importantly, switching to dairy-free milk means you can still have milk in your drinks and your food, and there are options aplenty!
Are you planning on doing some baking and aren’t too sure which ingredients, other than plant milk, you can use to make sure your creations are 100% vegan?
For instance, what can you use instead of eggs, butter or chocolate? This article, ‘Vegan baking essentials’ is just what you need.
Last updated: 1 September 2021