Switching to nondairy milk is one of the first adjustments that comes to mind when one thinks of transitioning to veganism, and in my opinion one of the most enjoyable. Unlike animal based milks, where one either has to pay a great deal to own the animal or purchase the milk and is limited to a rather narrow band of options, a plethora of non-dairy milks exist on the market. Each of them excels in specific applications and lags behind in others in much the way various types of gluten free flours do. Finding which applications work the best for each is the key. This is going to be a bit of a long post, so bear with me!
Before I delve into the culinary applications of various types of vegan milk however, I would like to point out one thing: home made versions of these milks often taste different and have vastly differing textures to their commercial versions. In each section I will try to address the taste discrepancies between the two and give my recommendation as to which I have had a better experience with in order to clarify.
Also, milks made with nondairy milk machines (usually advertised as soy milk makers, but many of them can make raw milks and soup as well) have a different texture and consistency than milks made with traditional blender setups, though often are more similar to milks made with high speed blenders. If you like nondairy milk I highly recommend picking one up. I’ll do a post reviewing various types in the future, but the one I use the most often is my Soyajoy G4. It makes fantastic milk with a fine okara and the leftover nut pulp is almost flour by the time you dry it out. Definitely worth the investment if you want to save money making your own milk!
I know there are some other nondairy milks out there, the ones below are the ones I use in my own kitchen. Most of them are pretty common, the last two being the exceptions but well worth the trouble of making yourself.
The links on each of the names that have them will take you to a home recipe further down the page for that type of milk. I don’t have recipes for all of them, but I do for most!
Anyhow, onto the types of milks:
- Soy milk is probably the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks nondairy. Silk makes an excellent soy milk, although Kroger makes a cheaper alternate that has slightly more of a “beany” aftertaste. Soy milk is great for drinking and cereal, is high in fiber, and when made from home and combined with coconut or hemp milk makes great ice cream. Thicker, homemade soy milk can also be used to make yogurt relatively easily! It’s the “staple” nondairy milk in my kitchen.
- Almond milk is probably the second most popular milk alternate. Silk’s tastes a little closer to dairy milk (both the chocolate and vanilla) and homemade has the highest calcium content of the various milks available. It’s good for drinking and cereal as well, and stands up decently to baking, though it isn’t as fatty as coconut or hemp, so it doesn’t impart quite as much moisture. It’s a little more expensive to make than soy, but many people prefer the taste.
- Hemp milk is thick and creamy and works as a fantastic tea and coffee creamer. When a baking recipe calls for a non-dairy milk (or any milk really) this is the one I turn to. When combined with soy it makes a great ice cream (though it can make decent ice cream on its own as well) and although it’s a little pricey to buy commercially, it’s often shelf stable and it’s relatively cheap to make. Need a substitute for half-and-half? Hemp milk has you covered.
- Coconut milk is often found in cans, though in recent years thinned drinkable varieties have made it onto the market. It needs to be diluted with soy for ice cream, but if you don’t mind the coco-nutty aftertaste, its creaminess works beautifully in cream sauces and curries. It’s the traditional milk for Thai curries! I’ve found that when making sauces it’s best to dilute it a bit with hemp or cashew milk if you don’t want a pronounced cashew taste. The lite versions have less fat than the more traditional coconut milks, which can help reduce the fat in some recipes.
- Cashew milk and cashew cream are my go-tos for cream sauces and ice cream making. The nuttiness of the milk mellows out and blends nicely in most recipes and the texture is reminiscent of full fat cream. It works well for whole milk and fantastically in baking, and when made from home leaves almost no nut pulp residue in a high speed blender. With a bit of soaking, even a normal blender can puree the nuts completely into the liquid! Cashews are pretty high in trace minerals as well.
- Rice milk is often better commercially than homemade, as many recipes make more of a porridge than a milk. In my experience it has a bit of an aftertaste, but can apply well when cooking Asian inspired meals. It’s a cheaper alternate to coconut milk for curries, and often tastes good in a bowl with granola.
- Flax milk is a relatively new entry into the market. Packed with Omega-3’s, there is a bit of a “flaxy” aftertaste to it, but when used as a creamer or in a bowl of cereal/cream soup this mostly disappears. I recommend cooking it at lower temperatures (sauces, gravies etc) because when brought to a boil or baked the aftertaste intensifies.
- Mung bean milk is one that most people will not get to try, as it’s only available to those with milk makers or those adventurous enough to make their own, but relatively readily available in street markets in China. It’s a half-and-half split of soaked soy and mung beans blended into a milk, and has a slightly “slippery” texture. It works fantastically for gravies and sauces, with very little beany aftertaste. I also recommend it for baking, as the aforementioned texture adds a nice amount of moisture to cakes and cookies.
- 5-bean or 5-grain milk is another type of milk that needs to be made from scratch that I had the pleasure of experiencing out in China. It’s made of a combination of buckwheat, millet, rice, oats, and soybeans, and is very smooth and creamy. It tastes the closest to “dairy milk” that I’ve found as far as nondairy milks go.
- 4 cups soy beans
- 1 gallon of water
- .5 cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1.5 tbsp vanilla extract
- .25 tsp bulk b12 powder (optional but I like to fortify my milks with it)
- nut milk bag or cheese cloth
- Cover soy beans in water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5-10 minutes, then remove from heat. Let soak overnight.
- Drain and rinse the beans.
- Take 1 quarter of the beans and blend with 4 cups of water on high speed. Depending on the power of your blender, this may take a few minutes. Strain through a nut milk bag (cheese cloth doesn’t work quite as well here, a nut milk bag is a worthy investment) into a large soup pan or stock pot. Squeeze to get out as much milk as you can! Repeat with remaining soy beans and water.
- Bring to a high simmer (medium to medium high heat depending on your stove) and cook for 10-15 minutes. This helps thicken the milk and reduce the beany flavor. Stir constantly as it will be sticky and want to make tofu skins!
- Let cool until lukewarm, then stir in sugar, salt and vanilla (and B12 if using). If you want to use it for cooking you can omit the vanilla and reduce the sugar by half. With a soy milk maker you can also reduce the beans by half.
Makes just over 3/4 of a gallon. Save the okara if you make it by hand, there are all kinds of neat things you can do with it! It’s high in fiber and can easily be slipped into baked goods and the like for added nutrition.
- 1 cup almonds, soaked overnight in cold water
- 4 cups water
- 2 tbsp sugar or 1.5 tbsp maple syrup or 1 tbsp agave or 2-3 dates
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Drain and rinse the almonds, then blend on high speed in a blender until relatively pulverized.
- Strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth lined strainer, reserving the nut pulp if you wish. Squeeze to get out as much milk as you can!
- Whisk in the sweetener and vanilla if you desire. Quadruple the recipe for a whole gallon!
For chocolate almond milk, rinse the blender and add .5 tbsp cocoa powder and 2 tbsp nondairy chocolate chips and blend until well combined along with the sweeteners and 1 tsp vanilla extract.
For another nice treat, add a cup of strawberries during step one and sweeten accordingly. It almost tastes like a smoothie, and it’s a hit with kids! You can do the same with blueberries and blackberries, the nut milk bag or cheesecloth will catch the fiber and seeds, leaving you with a fantastic fruity milk.
- 2 cups hemp hearts
- 4 cups water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
- Blend the hemp hearts and water on high speed for 2-4 minutes.
- Strain through a nut milk bag or cheese-cloth lined strainer. Squeeze to get out as much milk as you can! Whisk in desired flavorings. Quadruple the recipe for a gallon, it makes a quart.
- 1 cup cashews, soaked for 2 hours if not using a high speed blender
- 3 cups water (4 if making milk)
- .5 tbsp sugar
- .25 tsp salt
- Blend all ingredients on high speed until cashews entirely disappear. If not using a high speed blender, this could take several minutes. You may wish to keep a nut milk bag handy just in case. Quadruple the recipe for a gallon of the milk, it makes a quart.
- 1 cup cooked long grain brown rice
- 4 cups water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- .25 tsp salt
- .5 tbsp vanilla
- Blend the rice and water on high speed until the rice almost seems to disappear. Strain through a nut milk bag or cheese cloth lined strainer. Squeeze to get out as much milk as you can!
- Whisk in the rest of the ingredients if desired. This milk will only keep for a few days in the fridge, so unless there is a large demand for it a quart at a time is plenty. Quadruple the recipe if you want a gallon though!
- .5 cup mung beans
- .5 cup soy beans
- 4 cups water
- 1.5 tbsp sugar
- .5 tsp salt
- Place beans in pot and cover with at least 3 inches more water. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Cover and let soak for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight.
- Drain and rinse beans. Blend with 4 cups fresh water on high speed until pulverized, then strain through a nut milk bag. Squeeze to get as much milk out as you can!
- Bring to a high simmer (medium to medium high heat depending on your stove) and cook for 10-15 minutes. This helps thicken the milk and reduce the beany flavor. Stir constantly as it will be sticky.
- Let cool until lukewarm, then stir in sugar and salt. With a soy milk maker you can also reduce the beans by half. Makes a quart.
- .25 cup buckwheat
- .25 cup millet
- .25 cup rice
- .25 cup oats
- .33 cup soy beans
- 5 cups water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- .25 tsp salt
- Soak the grains in cold water 4 hours to overnight.
- Boil water and pour over soy beans, soak 4 hours to overnight.
- Drain and rinse grains and beans, combine with water and blend until thick and creamy.
- Strain through a nut milk bag and squeeze to extract most of the milk.
- Heat to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
- Wait until lukewarm, then whisk in sugar and salt. A tsp of vanilla works well here too. Quadruple the recipe if you want a gallon!