Through our Meal Delivery Service, we prepare food for many individuals with dietary restrictions, and this experience has taught us that certain varieties are better for certain applications. So, if you have ever found yourself staring at the many options lining the shelves of your supermarket and are confused about where to start, look no further!
In this post, I’ll review some general facts and tips to consider when purchasing non-dairy milks. Next week on the blog, I’ll share detailed insight on the most common types you can buy at the store and how we like to use them in cooking, smoothies, and everyday applications - plus, we’ll provide you with a recipe to make your own almond or cashew milk at home. (Sign up to receive email reminders when a new post goes up!)
Tips when considering non-dairy milks:
- Refrigerated or Shelf-Stable Plant Milks? When you start shopping for non-dairy milk, you will notice that you generally have two options: larger half-gallon containers sold in the refrigerated section near the dairy milk, or smaller quart-sized cartons, most often available in the organic or “natural foods” section. To me, both are good for various reasons. I have found that the refrigerated milks can be less expensive by volume, plus there is something just oddly comforting and familiar about pouring milk out of a carton that feels like the dairy milk that you’re used to. The shelf-stable milk is nice because you can stock up on it and keep it in your pantry for months, ready for when you need it. It’s also great for traveling, since you can’t always count on your hostess or hotel having a non-dairy option for you. Some brands are only available in refrigerated form, others are only available in the cartons - that’s just the way it is, so I find myself buying both, regularly.
- Sugar Content: Regardless of which department you buy your milk from, you’ll want to watch out for brands that add lots of sugar. Some milks are naturally high in sugar (rice, oat) and they have their place, but other varieties can be very low in sugar, unless the manufacturer chooses to add it for flavor. I tend to go for the unsweetened varieties, only, because then I can control the sugar by adding my own sweetener, if I want it. Most brands will offer an “original”, “vanilla”, and “unsweetened”. Just read labels.
- Gums and Stabilizers: I’ll admit, I used to be wary of the number of ingredients on the labels of plant milks. Cow’s milk just says “milk” so that’s better for you, right? Not necessarily. First, understand that small amounts of stabilizers are used to give the milk a pleasant and smooth consistency. (If you make nut milks at home, you’ll understand that completely raw, natural almond milk, for example, will separate into solids and liquid as it sits, unlike the brands you’ll find at the store.) We are by no means advocating that plant milks become a large part of your diet - they are simply a supplement to avoid dairy-milk, as needed. So, in my opinion (and after personal review of scientific research on the topic of stabilizing gums in the human body), I have found no evidence to suggest that I need to avoid them completely. The other ingredients that you’ll see listed on the side of those cartons are generally added vitamins and minerals, since most plant milks are fortified. I consider this a bonus, so it does not bother me. If you decide that you really want to avoid any stabilizers, there are brands available to purchase online for home delivery that are purely, freshly processed plant-milks with no added ingredients - of course, these come with the matching price tag for the level of perishability and quality, so that is a personal decision that you can make.
- Ingredients: As mentioned above, I don’t like added sugars in my plant milk. I also avoid stevia, monk fruit, and other “natural” sweeteners, because I’d prefer the unsweetened variety, always. You can decide what works best for your tastes and your family. Lastly, I will always opt for the organic brand if given the choice between two similar options.
- Where to Find Them in Chester County: You can find many varieties at Kimberton Whole Foods (locations in Malvern, Downingtown, Kimberton, and more), Wegmans (at my Downingtown store, they stock plant milks in the organic refrigerated section as well as different varieties in the non-organic dairy section - so look around!). Whole Foods Market in Devon (and soon, Exton!) also carries a great variety of plant based milks.
Come back to the blog next week to see how we use these varieties to bring out the best that each has to offer:
- Almond Milk
- Cashew Milk
- Macadamia Milk
- Coconut Milk
- Hemp Milk
- Flax Milk
- Quinoa Milk
- Soy Milk
- Oat Milk
- Rice Milk
Looking for the perfect substitution for a recipe that you want to convert to dairy-free? Leave us a note in the comments below or email us and we’ll give you our best advice.