The reasons for avoiding or minimizing dairy in one’s diet are myriad and often personal. Subscribing to vegan-ish eating habits can have a positive impact on everything from your digestive system, to your weight, to the planet at large, to the person sitting behind you approximately one hour after breakfast. Or maybe it’s a simple matter of being tired of the graveyard of nearly empty milk cartons littering your fridge, when non-dairy milks generally have much longer life spans. And, as luck would have it, we live in a moment when the sheer volume of health messages inundating us pretty much ensures that the average 11-year-old can probably name three sources of calcium outside the realm of dairy off the top of her head.
Deciding to incorporate dairy-alternative milks into your diet can go way beyond frothed in cappuccinos and splashed on cornflakes. Not all non-dairy milks are created equal—each has its own unique flavor and texture—so we’ve rounded up some of the best uses for five of the most common non-dairy milks.
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The OG non-dairy milk to have become ubiquitous in our supermarkets is actually the closest to real milk when it comes to texture and protein content. Its flavor has a slight edge to it that can sometimes stick out when used in an unmasked form, such as on cereal, but it makes for some of the tastiest, most structurally sound dairy-free or vegan baked goods. For a little sweetness, try Whole Wheat-Oat Pancakes or Vegan Jelly-Filled Muffins. For a savory fix, try a Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup where the natural earthiness of soy milk fits right in.
The catch-22 of nut-based milks is that they don’t contain as much protein as their namesakes would suggest. The upside, however, is that nut-based milks taste of their namesakes, rendering them delightful in preparations where the actual nuts would also work. Almond milk has a natural sweetness, making it excellent in smoothies such as this delicious and clean Mixed Berry Smoothie. Almond milk can also add a rich, umami element to braised meats, as in this Almond Milk Braised Pork Belly.
There is a vast difference in texture between coconut milk in a carton, which is light in texture with only a gentle air of coconut, and coconut milk in a can, which is much richer with a pronounced coconut flavor. And then there’s coconut cream, which is as much proof as I need of the existence of a benevolent higher power. With any of these on hand, you have options when you’re really jonesing for something creamy, without succumbing to actual cream. On the lighter side, use cartoned, unsweetened coconut milk for an aromatic Thai Coconut Soup. Coconut milk from a can is the staple for rich curries, like our Eggplant Curry with Lemongrass. When you have a craving that only the dreamiest mousse can tackle, use coconut cream in this 3-Ingredient Double Chocolate Mousse.
Second to soy milk, the character of oat milk is most akin to low-fat regular milk, and brings more fiber to the table than a lot of non-dairy options. It’s also the easiest to make yourself if you’re giving DIY a try for 2019. Perhaps it goes without saying, but swap in oat milk in your oatmeal for an outcome (oatcome?) that is almost self-congratulatory, and then drink an Oat Milk and Honey cocktail in the spirit of congratulations. Now that you’re really feeling saucy, use oat milk as the basis for a basic béchamel sauce to accompany vegetables or (more likely) pasta.
Whereas soy milk and oat milk make for the easiest substitutes for actual milk, cashews and cashew milk are the best understudies for cheese. Nearly pulverized cashews have a texture more like ricotta than like peanut butter, and a flavor that is lightly yeasty, in a cheesy way. If you have the wherewithal, use cashews themselves as a basis for a decadent Cashew Mac and Cheese; apply cashew milk to any situation begging for cream or Parmesan cheese, such as mashed potatoes, or this Creamy Garlic Roasted Red Pepper Pasta.
Related Video: How to Make Your Own Almond Milk
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