‘That’s a coffee with porridge for the lady’

Navigating the new world of non- dairy milk 

by Hanna Pumfrey

Today I asked for a flat white with oat milk in my local coffee shop… the look I received from the barista in response must have been the worst case of disdain I have ever seen.

‘That’s a coffee with porridge for the lady’ he said to his colleague. OK, OK, he was 100% right, the oat milk flat white turned out to be one of the worst concoctions I have ever tasted (well, still not as bad as a coconut flat white but we’ll get to that) but it was all in the name of science!

Over the last few weeks I have been experimenting with various non-dairy milks in multiple guises to bring you the Flor and Cesta guide to navigating the new world of not actually milk, milk.

A few years ago, the only decision most people made when picking up a bottle of milk was whether to get skimmed, semi-skimmed, or whole milk. Then came organic milk. And then soy milk gained popularity. Then came the infamous cowspiracy documentary (why DO we drink baby cow growth hormone?!) and our shelves were suddenly full with countless milk varieties: almond, hemp, rice, coconut, unsweetened, flavoured, and the list goes on.

How do you choose which milk is best for you? Here's a quick break down on what to use when.

1.    Soy Milk

The oldest of the new milks and with 6g of protein per cup and 45% DV of calcium, soy milk is an excellent option. Made from water and soybeans, making it a little thicker than cow's milk with a rich body that stands up well in coffee and smoothies.

Most people associate soy with tofu and soy milk, however, only a small portion of soy is consumed directly by humans. In fact, most of the world’s soy crop ends up in feed for poultry, pork, cattle and even farmed fish. Unbeknown to most of us, soy is found in almost all commercially produced meat or chicken that we eat. And unfortunately, the expansion of soy to feed the world’s growing demand for meat often contributes to deforestation and the loss of other valuable ecosystems. So, it’s one to think twice about, read more about soy bean farming here.

2.    Rice Milk

Made from water and brown rice, this dairy milk alternative lacks in nutrients with only 1g of protein and 2% DV calcium. The texture is watery and the taste somewhat bland, so unless you’re someone who suffers from numerous allergies (dairy/lactose, soy, nuts) we don’t recommend making this your flat white milk of choice.  

Fancy a spot of baking? Rice milk is not the one. It doesn't work well in recipes that use milk as a thickener but it can stand in for water in some recipes.

3.    Almond Milk

Made with ground almonds and water, this is a solid choice and the favourite of many non-milk milk drinkers. Buy it in a multitude of varieties; original, unsweetened, chocolate vanilla, it’s with cereal and in decadent beverages such as hot chocolate.

And, winner, it’s lower in in calories than dairy skimmed milk and higher in calcium. The downside: It's much lower in protein at only 1 g. The clever people SoDelicious have started adding pea and rice protein to their almond milk to increase the protein count to 5g… shame they’re not in the UK yet. We’re yet to find a high protein UK option so if you know one please get in touch! hello@florandcesta.com

4.    Coconut Milk

It might be trendy right now but consume with care. If you’ve ever tried coconut in your flatwhite you know what we’re talking about! We’re still scarred from the experience ;). BUT, no fear, there are many other ways to enjoy coconut milk. Coconut milk is very flavoursome and creamy making it a perfect choice rice, Thai dishes and desserts.

5.     Oat Milk

Oat milk is made with pre-soaked oat groats. One of the most protein rich milks on the market (5g per cup), oat milk is light with a mild, slightly sweet flavour. It works well in both sweet and savoury dishes; its light texture makes it good for light cream soups and curries while its sweet taste makes it work in baked goods. It is also one of the cheaper options out there making it a very strong option.

6.     Flax Milk

Flax milk is simply cold-pressed flax oil mixed with filtered water… yup, we have nothing more to say on that one…. With no fibr or protein just 2.5g of fat flax milk is one I’ve not quite got my head around. Less of a milk more of a flavoured water in my opinion.

7.     Hemp Milk

Made from hemp nuts and water and sweetened with brown rice syrup, this milk has a grassy and nutty flavour that is quite different from cow's milk. Some people find it grainy or chalky, but for many the natural flavour and texture is appealing. I think it's best-suited in grain-based dishes such as muffins or breads and it is my breakfast porridge milk of choice!

So the jury is still out for me on the non-milk, milk of choice to accompany my flatwhite but what I do know is that what I settle on will be a non-dairy option as it is a sustainable choice first and foremost for the environment but also for animals. And when I say animals I mean cows…