Friday, March 23, 2018

The Podium: A Hierarchy of Non-Dairy Milks

Mac-n-Cheese
Matt and I made this super-duper yummy pasta with a mushroom cream sauce that I love for dinner recently.   The cream sauce was a mixture of rice milk, almond milk, and raw cashews.  We blended the rice milk and almond milk because we didn't want the stronger flavor of the almonds to overpower the garlic infused into the sauce, but we didn't want to just use rice milk either because it is so thin and contains basically no fat--and fat is a critical component to a white cream sauce.  This led to an interesting conversation in which we ranked the various milks we use on their merits.  Tastes are so personal that this may not be interesting to anyone but me, but none the less...
Christmas sugar cookies.
The Podium:  Soy Milk, Coconut Milk, Cashew Milk.

Matt and I go back and forth on who gets the gold, silver, and bronze precisely, but these three are definitely our top picks.  All are relatively neutral in taste which suites them to an abundance of applications.  All three contain a reasonable amount of fat which imparts a smoother mouthfeel and helps when thickening cream sauces or desserts.
Mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, seitan, and corn.
Matt says soy milk is his favorite non-dairy milks.  It has a neutral taste and a thickness similar to cow's milk, somewhere between skimmed and 2%.  It is also usually one of the more affordably priced non-dairy options.  Some people get down on soy saying it causes cancer or shrinks testicles or causes over-sized mammary glands or whathaveyou.  For me, organic soymilk (and other traditional soy foods) is A-OK--with a cultural history going back centuries and centuries.  I think it is a whole different ball game, health-wise, than eating chemically grown and separated, genetically modified soy bits in things like Doritos and Pop-Tarts.  That's just me though.

Cashew milk is probably my favorite.  The thickness and mouthfeel are rich and very appealing to me.  It is a tad too expensive to be my go-to milk, but we buy it for variety from time to time, especially when we spot it on discount.  It is really versatile and can be used in a basically any recipe from breakfast through dessert.
Creamy baked macaroni casserole.
Coconut milk.  There are, it should be clarified, two kinds of coconut milk.  The kind in the can and the kind in the carton/jug.  Coconut milk in a can is basically heaven.  This kind of coconut milk makes for the creamiest, richest sauces and fillings.  Of course, it also imparts coconut flavor, contains copious amounts of (delicious) saturated fat, and is pricey so it isn't something we use on a daily basis.  The other kind of coconut milk is more like soy or almond milk.  It comes in a carton/jug like any other non-dairy milk, doesn't separate, and does not have a coconut flavor.  It has a nice velvety consistency--though not quite so much as its canned cousin--which lends well to making thicker, creamier sauces and soups.

Almond milk is nutritionally robust and has a nicely balanced level of fat.  It is another very versatile milk, though with a stronger flavor than cashew milk.  If my Non-Dairy Milk Options Olympics had a runner's up prize it would likely go to Almond Milk.

Pea Milk is a relatively recent offering on the non-dairy milk market.  I guess I had no idea what a protein powerhouse that little ol' pea might be.  Matt and I both enjoy it, finding it nutritionally dense (more iron and calcium and less sugar than 2% cow milk) with a nicely balanced fat ration and mouthfeel.  It is fairly expensive though so we typically buy it when we spot it on sale, too.
Non-dairy cheesecake with strawberry topping.
Rice Milk isn't something we purchase any more these days.  (A friend had gifted us the carton used in the dish which inspired this post.)  Matt in particular is not a fan.  It is too thin for our liking and not very nutritionally robust in comparison to the other options, though it certainly works, if it is all that is around.  Cream sauces may not be as thick and awesome, but it works.  I find it totally fine in a fruit smoothie, especially one with mango or banana to thicken it up a bit, and over a bowl of cereal.

Oat Milk falls last for both Matt and me.  We don't care much for how earthly it tastes and are unsatisfied with its somewhat grainy consistency.  The only satisfactory use we found was in our breakfast smoothies where its oaty flavor and thin consistency are corrected with sweet, pureed fruit.
Homegrown strawberries with milk and sugar.
Recycling options for the tetrapack style catrons in which these milks are typically sold are not available where we live.  In an effort to reduce the trash output of our household Matt tried his hand at making soy milk at home.  I thought it was fine, but Matt, who is more sensitive to textures than me, found the end result unsatisfactory.  Maybe we'll try again, but for now we purchase the majority of our non-dairy milks in #2 recyclable plastic containers (even if it is a better price in tetrapacks at Costco), supplemented by super-deals at the discount grocers.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting! I've had canned coconut milk, but not the carton. It's nice to know it doesn't taste like coconut.

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    1. It is the same as with refined and unrefined coconut oil. One tastes like coconut and one doesn't--and that really impacts how they get used!

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  2. I am with Matt on soy milk and neutral taste. We also started to use Koko a coconut milk, but it does have an aftertaste, its good for cereals. The issue of recycling, esp. tetra and plastic is a discussion we have been having a lot recently in our home too and are looking at ways to reduce our waste, but we need to be more proactive in this.

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    1. I don't think I've seen Koko brand yet. There are so many though!

      Good luck on your efforts to reduce and recycle!

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