The debate around diary milk has increasingly become shrouded in controversy in recent years, with issues surrounding animal welfare, climatic implications, nutritional factors and cost volatility, it’s becomes clear to see why many people have decided to reflect their stance on diary. Interest in plant-based alternatives have soared over the past five years. With the market for diary milk shrinking year on year, and the market for plant-based alternatives increasing each year this trend is here to stay.
A bit of science
Interestingly 75% of the worlds population are lactose intolerant. This is the inability to digest the sugar lactose in diary products due to lacking the lactase enzyme. Lactase breaks lactose down into galactose and glucose, both of which are forms of sugar that our body can process.
Lactase production is something that diminishes after weaning. A genetic mutation meant that some of us continued to produce this enzyme well into adulthood. What’s most interesting is that any one of us that are tolerant can become intolerant at any point.
So why the change in trends?
There are a lot of reasons why people decide to make the switch. Be it intolerance, allergies, veganism, wanting to minimise carbon footprints and environmental factors of raising livestock or simply changing things up a little. I fall into the latter. Alternative milks are a way of exploring different flavour. The beauty is that each type varies vastly, giving you a range of flavours, textures and nutritional profiles.
Environmentally I do have my concerns. An assumption all to frequently made however is that plants must be better than livestock for the environment. This is an oversimplification and it’s misguided. Plant-based alternatives also come with their consequences, such a miles traveled, processing demands, the amount of water required. Answering the definitive question of which is better environmentally is a complex one that I and others are still trying to figure out.
Make it yourself – you’ll save money and have a better quality product
The process is simple and can be inexpensive compared with commercial counterparts. Better yet, how much better everything tastes when you’ve taken the time to craft it yourself. A major pro-point for homemade milk is you lose all the additives, emulsifiers, stabilisers and sweeteners that commercial milks are laden with. Leaving you with a clean, crisp product.
You’ll also be getting a higher proportion of the actual grain, nut or legume you use. Many commercial milks are simply glorified water, with no more than 2% of the thing you’re actually paying for. A lot are also fortified with vitamins and minerals because, again, they’re ultimately full of water. When you make it yourself, you have control over that solid:water ratio, meaning you can treat yourself to more than 2% almonds for example which should in turn result in more nutrients.
Once you’ve had a sip, I can guarantee, you’ll be rethinking buying some of these alternative milks again and opting for making it yourself. You’ve got total control and flexibility over the process giving you complete creative freedom.
The plant based milk method
The base steps are simple and I’ll be elaborating on these through a series of recipes using different nut, grains and legumes, but as a rule, you’ve got 3/4 things to do:
- Soak your ingredients – at least 8 hours but preferably overnight.
- Cook – only for grain and legume based milks
- Blitz with water and strain
There are tonnes of different bases that can be used for these milks too, each with unique profiles, giving endless variations
Legumes – Mung beans, soy beans, chickpea, peanut…
These are most similar to cows milk and tend to be the highest in protein and calcium when it comes to the plant based milks.
Nuts – Cashews, almonds, hazelnuts…
Typically low in sugar and a good source of protein. Bulk buying nuts by the kilo will help keep the costs down, a little goes a long way. When buying stick to raw nuts, so that’s unsalted and unroasted.
Seeds – Linseed, pumpkin, sesame
Great source of the omega 3 and 6 and as they tend to be on the smaller side, most benefit from not having to undergo the soaking process, so a great way to speed things up.
Grains – Millet, rice, oats
These milks are great for those with allergies to nuts or lactose. They can be packed with calcium (oats-based) and as a group tend to be low in saturated fats and cholesterol
Links to Guides
I’ll be dipping into various different milks adding them here. I’ll discuss the benefits and will also cover the nutritional shortfalls. As with anything, keeping your diet varied is key to ensuring you get the nutrients your body needs, having only one of anything will never give you that.MIY: Almond Milk