From a dash in coffee to a glass with cookies, plant-based milks are making a splash nationwide. Whether you or a family member avoids dairy due to an allergy or lactose intolerance, a vegan diet, or the desire to increase your consumption of plant-based foods, there’s a nondairy milk for you.
Industry experts estimate dairy alternatives will skyrocket from $21.4 billion in 2019 to nearly $37 billion by 2025. The growing popularity of nondairy milks (up 61 percent between 2013 and 2018 alone) has also given rise to more options than ever.
From perennial favorites to up-and-comers, here are some of the most popular plant-based, nondairy milks to try, plus how they stack up against each other in terms of taste, nutrition, texture, and more.
With its mild, slightly nutty flavor and low calorie count, almond milk makes a great foundation for smoothies, baking, or hot or cold cereals. However, with only about 1 gram per cup, the protein count can be on the low side. You’ll also find that it’s much less creamy and substantive than other milks.
For a creamier, more nutrient-dense milk, go for cashew. Just one cup packs up to 20 percent of your daily vitamin D, 50 percent of your daily vitamin E, and 50 percent of your daily calcium. Its naturally rich texture may remind you of half and half, making it a great plant-based coffee addition.
The low-key flavor, smooth texture, and natural sweetness of oats has made more and more Americans sweet on oat milk. In 2020, sales of refrigerated oat milk surged 350 percent compared to the year prior, making oat milk second in popularity to almond milk. Each 120- to 160-calorie cup doles out up to 2 grams of fiber and around 4 grams of protein (which is on the higher end for a plant-based milk).
What coconut milk lacks in protein, it makes up for in fiber, iron, manganese, phosphorous, copper, folate, and vitamin C. If you prefer the mouthfeel of whole or 2 percent dairy milk, the higher fat content of a can of coconut milk will be pleasantly familiar. You can also try coconut milk beverage, which typically contains water, coconut cream, coconut water, stabilizers, and other ingredients and works best for smoothies, coffee, and cold and hot cereals. If you’re not a fan of coconut flavor, you may not like this milk: Depending on the brand and any added ingredients, coconut milk can be pretty sweet and coconutty.
Looking for a naturally vegan, soy-free, nut-free, hypoallergenic way to keep milk in your diet? Choose rice milk! While this option isn’t exactly a nutritional powerhouse — it doesn’t have a ton of protein, fiber, vitamins, or minerals — it is one of the lower-calorie choices. Like rice itself, rice milk also has a mild, slightly sweet flavor without added sugars.
Heart-healthy flaxseed isn’t just for grinding into meal. With a relatively thin texture and slight natural sweetness, flax milk may be best suited for smoothies or cereal rather than a coffee creamer. On the nutritional front, high-fiber flax milk has alpha linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid known to help lower cholesterol.
Let’s start by clearing the air: non-psychoactive hemp is a cousin of cannabis, but it’s not marijuana. With around 5 grams of protein per serving, hemp milk boasts a naturally higher protein content than most rice and nut milks. It’s also rich in iron, alpha-linolenic acid, the full deck of 10 essential amino acids, and plenty of other nutrients such as vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin A. Hemp milk can have a beany, nutty quality to it that may be an acquired taste, but try different brands to see which flavor profile you like best.
While it has slipped in popularity (partly due to some health concerns about potential hormone regulation with regular soy consumption) soy milk boasts a high protein content and 2 grams of fiber per cup. With a smooth texture similar to dairy milk, soy milk is less watery than the average rice or almond milk. The flavor ranges from brand to brand — some are milder and more closely mimic dairy milk while other brands emphasize the soy bean’s flavor. And unsweetened soy milk is typically less sweet than other unsweetened plant-based milks.
Other nondairy milks to try
Other nuts, legumes, and seeds make amazing nondairy plant milks, too. It may be tougher to find these options in stores, but as the plant-based food and beverage market continues to grow, availability may change.
- Milk made from macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and walnuts
Since specialty nut milks may be harder to come by, it may be worth it to make your own. Their assertive flavors can elevate your coffee, tea, or smoothie.
- Quinoa milk
The same bright, nutty qualities of these South American seeds shine in milk form. Like the cooked grain, quinoa milk is naturally rich in protein, manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, folate, and thiamin.
- Pea milk
Peas are naturally packed with protein with 8 grams per cup. Looking for a high-protein choice that’s safe for people with lactose, soy, gluten, or nut intolerances or allergies? Go with pea milk. Compared to other milks on our list, pea milk may not offer as much in the flavor department. And nope, it’s not green.
Add nondairy milk to your next grocery run
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, an estimated 65 percent of people worldwide lose their ability to digest lactose after infancy. A shift to nondairy milks may also positively impact the environment (the dairy industry contributes about 2 percent of America’s total greenhouse gas emissions). It’s no wonder more people around the world than ever have opted to try out plant-based milks. The only question is, which one will you add to your grocery list this week?