Dairy Milk Alternatives

I am not a fan of processed food in any form. It seems that however hard they try, those manufacturers are bound so tight by regulation or price point, to produce something that often falls far short of the stuff you and I turn out of our steamy kitchens. But there has to be a sliding scale, a little wriggle room between homestead goddess and microwave slattern. Some products can bridge that gap between gold standard and what is actually possible in a busy life.

I am often asked to suggest milk alternatives for those who can't consume dairy and the healthy options are surprisingly few.

If you love the taste of coconut, then you can grab a can of organic coconut milk - great for cooking and baking, but it is very rich to have in tea!

You may already know my feelings on soya milk (avoid, avoid, avoid!) and have heard that it acts as a goitrogen (inhibits thyroid function), is chock full of phytic acid (leeches minerals from the body), may contain higher levels of aluminium than you want in your food and phytoestrogens that knock out a girl's reproductive cycle and encourage moob growth where there should be none. Not even on the radar as a milk choice for anyone with digestive issues, autism, hormonal issues or absorption problems in my opinion. I think that (for anyone except the obscenely healthy and resilient), soya should only ever be consumed when fermented as tamari, soy sauce, miso and tempeh.

I am aware that this could be considered a controversial view, and if you are of a different opinion, I salute your right to think differently from me. I have read studies showing benefits from soya and others showing real negatives. My belief is that it's not part of European or American food cultural heritage and therefore probably not something we're adapted to. Asians may well be able to cope with greater amounts due to the elements of their diet that correct the imbalances it causes (namely, huge quantities of food from the sea, gelatinous broths, sesame and greens). If you're going to consume soy in any quantity, make sure you also include all these elements in your diet.

Oat milk is another option, but this too is full of phytic acid, not suitable for coeliacs. The un-enriched Organic Oatly Milk is just oats, water and sea salt. Avoid the enriched version which has oils and synthetic vitamins added.

Rice milk is rather sweet tasting, quite thin and contains a lot more carb than dairy milk and not much fat, which could upset blood sugar balance. It is made with polyunsaturated vegetable oil that has been heat treated and deodorised (not a good way to consume polyunsaturated oil). If you must buy it, make sure the brand  is organic, as non organic brands have been found to contain high levels of arsenic. Not as bad as soya milk, but fairly low on the charts for me.

Hemp Milk is quite similar in flavour and texture to rice milk, with a little more creaminess and a nutty (Finn would say cardboardy) backnote. It has a bit of an oily aftertaste to my palate, so not my favourite. Nutritionally, it's very high in omega 3 and 6 and is cold extracted to maintain the integrity of the polyunsaturates. Being a commercial milk, it is also sweetened with dried rice syrup and grape juice extract and fortified with vitamins and minerals. It tasted very sweet to my palate and made my tea taste too sweet. Still, despite the sweetness, one of the better choices for milk alternatives in my opinion. Available from the company that makes Good Oil - Good Hemp is a UK hemp milk product.

Nut Milk is my milk alternative of choice! The ideal is always to make your own at home from soaked whole nuts (I even ferment mine a little with water kefir), but the second best choice is to buy some. I recently tried Alpro's Almond Milk (made from Mediterranean almonds) and Hazelnut Drink and they were both delicious. Creamy and with a definite nut flavour - you won't be fooled into thinking you're drinking dairy milk - but who wants cows milk when they can have something that tastes of roasted hazels or almond praline? Alpro nut milks are made from roasted nuts - this is to kill any bacteria apparently, while it does give a lovely flavour, it decreases the nutritional value by altering the delicate oils in the nuts. I personally find the milk oversweet - while dairy milk has a similar amount of sugars in it, lactose doesn't have the same sweetness as sucrose. I would prefer to see more nut and less sugar. The milk is fortified with synthetic B & D vitamins & calcium tri-phosphate and sweetened with sugar.

If you're going to buy dairy free milk, Alpro Almond Milk and Hazelnut Drink would be my choice. But be aware of the sugar content and don't drink pints of the stuff!

To make your own like the creamy glass above,  try this recipe.