Dairy free milks have come a long way in the last few years. The good news is that they now work much better than they did. None of the non-cow-based milk alternatives is perfect, in that none of them will substitute for milk in all situations. However, if you mix and match you can usually find something to do the trick.
Soya milk: love it or hate it you can’t avoid it. Lots of different brands are available in all sorts of flavours, all of which have one thing in common: they taste horrible (just my opinion: if they rock your boat then enjoy!). However, bog-standard unflavoured soya milk is pretty good as a substitute for milk in cooking most dishes: we’ve had success with bread, cakes, biscuits, custard, white sauces and so on. In sauces you’re best off if you can cook the sauce for a little while: this decreases the soya taste.
Now this is where the greatest degree of improvement has come. Soya Milk is no longer the same creature it was a few years ago. For one thing there are so many more brands out there. Big companies have become aware of a market they were missing out on. As a result, they have clearly invested substantial sums in research to improve on their product, or in some cases to create products which are new to them to increase their market penetration. Whether you approve of their motives or not, the benefit to us has been increased competition and (hooray!) better tasting soya milk. I used to think there was no such thing as a pleasant-tasting soya milk. Do I now love it? Well, that would be a slight exaggeration, but I am now prepared to use it on cornflakes… and that’s saying something!!
When cooking sauces with soya milk note that it’s already slightly starchy: if the recipe calls for flour or cornflour in the sauce to thicken it you should probably use slightly less than the recipe suggests.
Brands: Our current favourite is Tesco’s own brand Sweetened Soya. This obviously isn’t the best for savoury sauces, but it isn’t as sweet as many other sweetened soya milks. It uses apple juice and maltodextrin for the sweetness.
The economy versions can be a trifle watery.
Where to get it: virtually anywhere (Sainsbury’s sell half-litre cartons, which are more useful than the usual litre ones if you’re cooking for one).
Gotchas: don’t leave an open carton in the fridge too long since it can get truly revolting. Also, don’t add cold soya milk to a boiling sauce as it will split. Mixing a smidgen of cornflour with a couple of teaspoons of water and adding it to the sauce,then taking it off the boil for a few seconds before adding the soya milk helps.
Like soya milk: it doesn’t taste wonderful but is useful in cooking. Rice milk comes into its own when cooking sweet dishes: this is what you use to make a stonking dairy-free custard.
Brands: Rice Dream (from Imagine Foods) is what we’ve used.
Where to get it: most big supermarkets and health food shops.
Gotchas: The most commonly available form of Rice Dream is slightly flavoured with vanilla. Don’t use it to make cheese sauce for lasagne, as vanilla-flavoured lasagne is Not Good. I speak from personal experience. Update Apparently, Provamel now make a non-vanilla flavoured Rice Dream, which should have significant advantages for cooking savoury dishes.
Like soy milk, but with a less pronounced flavour. It makes decent cheese sauces, and can otherwise be used in most of the places where soya milk is adequate. Better than soya milk in sweet dishes (but not as good as rice milk unless you don’t want vanilla flavouring). Oatly claims that it’s heat stable, which is an advantage in cooking.
Brands: Oatly and Oat Milk (Pacific Foods, I think: I don’t have a website).
Where to get it: Not easy to get hold of: most supermarkets don’t stock it. Can usually be found in health food shops.
Gotchas: has a slightly dusty flavour, although it does taste better than plain soya milk (not that that’s hard).
Where to get it: Sacrifice three goats and turn around widdershins. Alternatively pester your local health food shop to order it in. Not easy to find…
Gotchas: it’s sweet, so only use for sweet dishes (again, NOT lasagne).
I don’t know anything about this one: please comment if you have tried it!
Brands: Plamil White-sun
Where to get it: health food shops
Gotchas: please let me know if you find any!
Now, I’m not usually one to sing the praises of large companies who tend to dominate the market. Elsewhere among my posts, I’ve moaned about the lack of choice in the soya yoghurt department. Alpro have not always been high on my list of favoured companies. However, they have recently introduced both chilled and long life versions of these two “milks” and I love them! I’m now using both in my coffee and it’s infinitely better than putting soya in it. Do you remember the craze a few years ago (OK probably more than a few now I stop to think about it!) for using flavoured syrups in real coffee? Well, these create a very similar effect. I think they’re delicious. I will even drink them neat, straight from a glass with nothing to disguise the taste and I don’t do that very often!! There are no overtones of damp cardboard with which anyone forced to drink soya milk over the years has become far too familiar. Instead, they both have clean, clear nutty tastes which are different from each other (yes, I know they should be…but…be honest, how many times have you hoped for the best only to be disappointed?), but equally good.
In case you haven’t noticed…I’m a fan!!
This has a smooth silky texture and is pale gold in colour. It also has a distinct and very good flavour of hazelnuts. You do need to remember to shake it every time you use it, as otherwise you’ll be left with quite a lot of sludge at the bottom and since this is the really flavourful bit, it’s much better off distributed through the milk than left to go to waste. I really like it in coffee. It adds a touch of luxury to the taste and feel of a simple instant coffee and it definitely enhances the flavour. There is no nasty starchy backtaste as there always seems to be with soya milks and, so far, I’ve found it to be totally heat-stable.
It works excellently in my Fast and Fabulous Fruit Loaf, adding a nutty background to the flavour without adding “gritty bits” for those who object to that in fruit cakes. (Yes, I have one of those!) The only thing to remember is that you cannot use it for lunchbox cakes if, as so many schools are, yours is nut free. This is an allergenic substance and you can’t use it around nut allergics. However, for the rest of us… it’s delicious!
Where to get it: most supermarkets seem to have it at the moment. Some have the fresh form in the chiller cabinet with the other milks, some have the long-life form, shelved with the rest of the long-life milks. I haven’t found noth forms in the same supermarket yet. So far I’ve bouhgt this from Morrison’s, Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. Keep an eye out for special offers: Morrison’s tend to do 3 for £3 every now and then. The dates are good and long even on the fresh form and I stack it flat at the back of the fridge until I need it.
Gotchas: it’s sweet, so only use for sweet dishes (again, NOT lasagne). In coffee, whether or not you like it will depend on whether the thicker texture appeals to you. I can imagine it might seem almost greasy to some people. It’s all a matter of personal taste.
This milk is paler than the hazelnut one and has a more delicate flavour. It is also lighter and thinner in texture. It is pale cream to look at and has a smooth feel on the tongue. Again, I will drink this in its undisguised form and it is a faintly sweet, refreshing drink. It makes delicious custard without any hint of curdling/splitting. It is lovely to have a choice of “milks” available which actually taste good! I’ve used this in my Fast and Fabulous Fruit Loaf and it worked well, although the flavour of the milk doesn’t really come through as it is rather too delicate for that. I prefer the effect of the hazelnut one. As with the hazelnut milk, you should avoid using this if you’re taking the end result somewhere that is nut-free. While almonds are strictly speaking seeds rather than true nuts, most nut-free areas will not want almonds taken in.
Where to get it: as for Alpro Hazelnut Milk
Gotchas: it’s sweet, so only use for sweet dishes (again, NOT lasagne).
Alpro have introduced a new variant on the almond/hazelnut milk theme: an unsweetened almond milk….. and it’s great!
It has only recently appeared in the supermarkets round here. It’s just as good as the original version in terms of flavour and cookability, but it has the added advantage of being unsweetened. This makes it better for use in savoury cooking and less calorific if you’re trying to cut down after Christmas.The reduction of sugar does not spoil the taste. As with the original almond and hazelnut, it comes in both fresh and longlife versions. I’ve tried both and I can’t tell them apart. I now make sure I have a box of longlife tucked away for emergencies.
You need to keep an eye on the chiller cabinet and on the shelf section in your supermarket. If yours is like mine, there will be 3 for £3 offers on for a few weeks at a time. This stuff has really good long dates on it (even the fresh version), so I stock up when it’s going cheap. The boxes store on their sides at the bottom of the fridge until they’re opened and I eke them out until the next offer comes around. After all there’s a big difference between £1 a box and £1.50ish. It all mounts up after a bit.
Not all the family are fans: some don’t like the taste of nuts and are resisiting conversion….but I don’t care, I love it!