Dairy-Free Milk Substitutes and Beverages

Dairy-Free Milk Substitutes in Your Supermarket

Whether you've got a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance in your family, or you're simply giving up milk for a while as part of an elimination diet, you may find yourself checking out the rows of dairy-free milk substitutes in the grocery store. There are quite a few options available, and most have slightly different properties for drinking and cooking.

Here's a cheat sheet to your options. Sample a variety to figure out which taste suits you best; most are quite distinctive.

Goat Milk and Other Ruminant Milk

glass of milk on wooden table
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Goat, sheep, and other ruminant milks contain similar proteins to cow's milk and may have a high degree of cross-reactivity. That means if you're allergic to cow's milk, you are likely to react to other ruminant milks, too.

If you are considering trying goat milk (say, drinking it yourself, or giving it to a toddler), consult an allergist first.

These milks contain lactose and are not suitable if you're lactose-intolerant without prior use of an over-the-counter lactase supplement.

Soy Milk

The most widely available dairy-free milk alternative is soy milk. You can find it on the grocery store shelf or in the refrigerated section. It is also one of the more cost-effective milk alternatives.

Soy milk is high in protein, making it an attractive for cooking and baking. Soy itself has a distinctive taste, so make sure you like it before adding it to a sauce or your favorite cereal.

Nut Milks

Almond milk is among the most common nut milks. Like soy milk, nut milks are high in protein and useful for baking. You may find their taste blends in with baked goods, coffee, or nutty cereals better than soy milk, although personal tastes vary.

Nuts are high in "good fats" and Vitamin E. One drawback to both soy and nut milk is that both are common allergens.

Rice Milk

Unlike soy and nut milks, rice milk is not especially allergenic, making it an attractive choice for families concerned about avoiding allergens in young children.

Rice milk, especially vanilla flavored, is quite sweet. Its texture is the most watery of all milk alternatives, and not particularly useful for cooking.

Low in protein, rice milk does not make a good nutritional replacement for milk unless heavily fortified. Drink it as a beverage or pour it on cereal.

Hemp Milk

A newer milk alternative is hemp milk. Its protein level and texture fall in between that of rice and soy milk.

Hemp milk is more watery than regular milk, but has enough protein for use in some cooking applications, including sauces that don't rely on large amounts of protein.

Oat Milk

Like hemp milk, oat milk has a moderate amount of protein, making it more useful than rice milk for cooking. However, it's still not a true drop-in replacement for cow's milk in baking.

It's fairly mild, nutty tasting and a natural match for hot cereals or other breakfast foods.

Oat milk may not be suitable for celiac disease patients sensitive to avenin, a protein found in oats. 

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