Milk. It can come from a cow, or a goat. But it can also come from a nut, a grain or a bean. And yes this is still considered within the term ‘milk’. A good example to think of is coconut milk. Milk from a coconut = coconut milk. So, that part is settled: there are many kinds of milk, dairy milk being only one.

People will choose a type of milk other than dairy milk for many reasons: dairy allergy, lactose intolerance, cholesterol reduction, disliking how cows are treated by dairy industry, or even just the idea of drinking something that is designed by nature to make a baby cow grow very large, very quickly. The most popular plant milks (that I know about) are:

o soya
o almond
o oat
o hemp
o rice
o hazlenut
o coconut

So – with all of these options, I thought I’d do a bit of a comparison between different variations on plant milks to give an idea of what to expect from each. To kick things off, I’ll begin with the easiest and most familiar plant milk: soya milk (known simply as soy milk in the US).

First – Will this curdle in my coffee or tea?

In the US, normally no, it won’t.
But in the UK, until recently the answer to this was: normally, yes it will make your coffee curdle (eew). But…not anymore, hurrah! Alpro has changed their formula and now makes two versions of soy milk that will not curdle in your coffee or tea. Their original and light versions have acidity stabilizers to keep the milk from curdling. Use these and your cuppa will be lovely and curdle-free.

One thing with soya milk is that you should shake it every time you use it – and this creates bubbles and a foamy
effect. Great for a latte (as pictured), but it might take time to get used to this in your tea. I don’t mind it, but you could always skim the foam off the top with a spoon if it bothers you.

Quick Nutrition comparison

One thing that surprised me when I started looking at the nutrition of milk was difference in the amount of sugar involved. In skimmed milk, for a 100ml serving there are 5 grams of sugar. Compare that with bog-standard soya milk which has 2.7 grams for the same serving. And no, there isn’t much more protein in a 100 ml glass of dairy milk – only 3.4 grams compared with 3.0 grams for the soya milk. Since we’re looking at skimmed milk, there will be more fat content in the soya (0.8 grams compared with 1.8 grams for the soya), but in the soya it is mostly unsaturated and completely free of cholesterol. If you use semi-skimmed milk then the fat grams are equal to the soya at 1.8 grams, which does have saturated fat and cholesterol.

Calorie content 35 calories for 100 grams of skimmed dairy milk (it is more for semi-skimmed) – 40 calories for 100 grams of soya milk. (For comparison, semi-skimmed dairy milk has 50 calories per 100 ml.)

Overall, considering that the calcium is the same for both, and the soya milk also comes with a good hit of vitamin D (something many of us are short on, especially in the winter months), and even some plant fibre thrown in for good measure (0.5 grams per 100 ml) – soya milk looks like a good option from a nutritional standpoint.

Taste

I have been drinking soya milk regularly for over 15 years now, so I might not be the most objective. That said, I can tell you that when I first tried soya milk it was from a long life package (that keeps on the shelf) and I wasn’t a huge fan. For me it was the texture – it was a bit thicker than milk somehow. Can’t explain it, but it wasn’t for me. Once the refrigerated versions came along, I was sold.

Cooking

Use soya milk in cooking just as you would regular milk with a 1:1 ratio as the recipe states. Where you might not want added sweetness, choose an unsweetened variety. And where you want to replicate buttermilk (by adding lemon juice or vinegar), choose a variety without acidity stabilizers – unlike in your coffee, you want your milk to curdle in these recipes.

Just as one way I use it – soya milk makes an excellent low-fat substitute for coconut milk in curries. You get the creaminess and flavour with a fraction of the fat. It’s fantastic. I do the same with creamy mushroom sauces, creamed soup recipes, smoothies, mashed potatoes… Anything where you would throw in a splash or more of milk, you can use soya milk. It really is that easy.

What’s the best first way to try this?

Try chocolate soya milk. Seriously. It’s basically a milkshake in a glass. Then definitely move onto the original (sometimes called sweetened) version – this one tastes the closest to milk, although a bit sweeter. Again, I find it very odd that there is less sugar in soya because the taste is so much sweeter. It’s a lovely mystery, if you ask me.

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