On a lighter (quite literally, considering our usual indulgences) note, let’s talk about non-dairy, plant-based alternatives. These are milks which are made from plants, such as almond, soy, rice, coconut and oat milk. If you’re a frequent goer to any ‘hipster’ cafes, “DF” (dairy-free) is an acronym you’d be relatively familiar with. The market for DF milks is skyrocketing and seems to be showing no sign of slowing down. It brings me great pleasure to find that even our local NTUCs are stocking up too! Before we lose you, this post isn’t about evangelising veganism or imposing any form of environmental-cruelty-yadah-yadah guilt upon you.
Let’s digress: many Asian cultures go way back with soy, and if we’ve pulled your heart strings reminiscing those childhood mornings, going to the hawker centre for that cup of soy milk or bowl tau huey, this article’s for you.
Contrary to popular belief (and supported by clinical studies), dairy products are no longer the panacea for our calcium deficiency woes. In fact, humans are usually unable to breakdown the sugars in dairy, leading to painful bloating, gas and in severe cases, diarrhoea. If you’d like to take it a step further, The China Study by Campbell and Campbell perpetuates the links between dairy consumption and cancer growth. Give it a read, we’d recommend. But if you have no time for that, our post should find you well too.
Going non-dairy is often linked to going lower calorie. While that holds true, plant-based alternatives also offer a myriad of other health benefits such as:
- Better digestion
- Improved hormone levels: increased energy and mood
- Better digestion and regulated hormone levels come clearer skin!
- Addictive free (dairy cows are almost always injected with hormones like IGF-1 to expedite growth and development of milk for commercial purposes)
- Lower in sugar: believe it or not, dairy milk contains a fair amount of (ok, fine, “natural”) sugars but purchasing unsweetened (which really should be the way to go) plant-based versions will certainly do your body some good
Of course, there’s always two sides to a coin. Our rule of thumb when purchasing long-life shelved plant-based milks is to look out for (a) sugars (b) sodium (c) added oils (d) carrageenan, a thickener more commonly known as ‘Irish Moss’ which may cause indigestion for some (e) fortified with calcium is always a bonus
Plant-based milks vary widely both in their macronutrient and micronutrient profiles.
We now break down our top 5 favourites and why:
The vegan’s favourite. In fact, supposedly everyone’s favourite.What it is: Made from roasted ground almonds mixed with water. Easy to make, and significantly lighter on your wallet if you go the homemade route. More on this soon.
Issues: Most commercial almond milks out there are only 2-3% almonds, which is about 5 almonds per 250ml of milk. They’re usually thin and watery, but if you’ve had cold-pressed ones or made them at home yourself, you’d know almond milk is nothing like that. There are higher almond content milks such as Pure Harvest’s 7% activated almond milk or Provamel’s 6% almond milk.
Best for: It’s nutty taste makes it versatile for desserts, breakfast bowls and drinks. An all-rounder in general.
Issues: Some varieties add oils to bring up the fat content to match regular cow’s milk so beware!
Best for: Everything, in our opinion. Does well even in savoury dishes given its richer texture and neutral flavour. We like Provamel’s soy milk, Alpro’s organic whole bean and Pacific’s organic unsweetned soy milk.
What it is: Made from oats blended with water. Touted to carry the benefits of oats like increased fibre and lowering of cholesterol. Also good for those with nut allergies. Generally contains only a third of the protein of cow’s milk but more than almond milk.
Best for: Oats/porridge, latte-like drinks, savoury dishes especially soups (doesn’t break down in heat). Current favourite is Oatly’s Organic Oat Drink.
What it is: Made from soaked cashews blended with water. Thick, rich and buttery in flavour, and a little sweeter than almond milk. Even easier to make compared to almond milk as the nuts don’t need blanching to remove the skins prior to blending. Another beautiful one to make at home, hassle free. These nifty nuts also have a high energy density to combat fatigue.
Issues: While cashew milk’s popularity is on the rise (and bearing in mind California’s almond drought), these nuts do contain over 25 different strains of fungi which translates to bacteria, yeast and mould which can produce mycotoxins in the body. We would suggest it as a treat, but maybe not for everyday.
Hazelnut MilkWhat it is: Made from blanched roasted hazelnuts mixed with water. Good source of vitamins B1, B2 and B6 which are essential in blood formation and mental health. Also high in vitamin E. Its nutty flavour is significantly stronger than almond milk.
Best for: Coffee or chocolate flavour profiles (we think hot chocolate/Ferrero Rocher-esque), baking or desserts. So far we’ve only seen these in smaller cartons, like this one by Provamel.
While this list is non-exhaustive, there are others we’ve not mentioned such as hemp milk, rice milk, coconut milk, flax milk, macadamia milk and even spelt milk! We challenge you to take a dive into the sea of plant liquid and let us know which one floats your boat!
All illustrations in this post by Tessa Lee (behance.net/tessze)