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An Introduction to 7 of the Best Milk Alternatives


Milk is a popular component of modern diets. From adding a splash in tea or coffee, to sploshing into your cereal bowl or adding to home baked treats, milk is everywhere. But should we be getting our milk from cows, cashews, coconuts or camels! The One Edit looks into which milk alternatives are the best for you and the planet.
Almonds spill over a glass cup onto a marble table next to a glass of fresh almond milk.

Milk alternatives are sweeping into coffee shops and supermarket shelves with more and more success in recent years. Whether you are vegan, trying to cut down your dairy intake or curious about small sustainable swaps you can make in your everyday life, milk alternatives might be of interest to you. The One Edit is on hand to guide you through some of the burning questions around alternative milk. Read on to discover which milk alternative could become your new favourite!

Table of Contents:

What is Alternative Milk?

‘Milk alternatives’ or ‘Alternative Milk’ are terms used to refer to any cow’s milk substitute. Rather than coming from dairy farms, alternative milks tend to be plant based. Milk alternatives aren’t a new concept, having been used in the past by people with allergies and dietary restrictions. However, in recent years milk alternatives have started to reach a more widespread popularity as they are considered a healthy and sustainable substitute for mainstream cow’s milk. It’s even thought that 1 in 3 Britons now drink alternative milks

What is Alt Milk?

You may have noticed the phrase ‘Alt Milk’ popping up on menus or ingredients lists in recent months. Alt Milk is simply an abbreviation of alternative milks. Due to a decision passed by the EU, purely plant based products cannot be marketed as milk which is why you might see ‘alt milk’ or deliberate misspellings such as ‘mylk’ and ‘m*lk’ frequently being used. 

How Are Milk Alternatives Made?

Although there is a wide range of milk alternatives available, most of them are produced through similar processes. Most alternative milks are made by soaking the main ingredient (usually a nut, legume or grain) in water for several hours, before blending into a puree. This puree is then filtered to separate any lumps from the liquid. The liquid is then boiled to sterilise it and lastly flavouring might be added. Another method of making alternative milks is to grind the main ingredient into a paste or dry powder before water is added. 

3 Benefits of Milk Alternatives

Alternative milks are gaining popularity as awareness of their many benefits grows. Here are three of the top reasons why alternative milks may be seen as superior:

  1. Alternative milks are considered to be more sustainable - Milk is a dietary staple that most people would struggle to stop using. However, dairy products and their manufacture can have a significant impact on the environment. On average, alternative milks produce 70% less greenhouse gas emissions compared with cow’s milk. It is also thought that cow’s milk produces more waste and uses up more water than alt milks. For conscious consumers, alternative milks are perceived as a more sustainable option. 
  2. Alternative milks are potentially healthier - The essential sodium and potassium which humans acquire from cow’s milk are also present in plant based milk alternatives. However, according to UCLA Health, plant based alternatives are between 37% to 75% lower in unhealthy fats than cow’s milk. There are also ongoing investigations into how much of the cow’s hormones make their way into the milk. It is thought that ingesting additional oestrogen through cow’s milk could increase the risk of breast, uterine and prostate cancers. Alternative milks could be considered to have the health benefits of conventional milk without the risks. 
  3. Alternative milks are cruelty free - There is no risk of animal cruelty with alternative milks since they are made from plants. Although not universal, sometimes dairy cows can be separated from calves, and restricted from grazing and moving around. Alternative milks are considered cruelty-free because they are free from these practices. 

Fresh white alternative milk is poured into half a cracked coconut.


Which is the Best Milk Alternative For You?

The best milk alternative can depend on personal preference. There are plenty to choose from all with slightly varying qualities. Looking at the environmental impact, health benefits, flavour and more will help us figure out which the best milk alternatives are. Next time you are adding a splash of milk to your morning cup, no matter the type of coffee, consider one of these milk alternatives:

  1. Soy Milk
  2. Pea Milk
  3. Oat Milk
  4. Almond Milk
  5. Cashew Milk
  6. Coconut Milk
  7. Camel Milk

1. Soy Milk 

Soy milk is one of the longest running alternative milks and is thought to have the closest nutritional resemblance to cows’ milk. 

Strengths:

  • High in protein (8g/cup).
  • Filled with antioxidants.
  • Filled with fibre.

Weaknesses: 

  • Soy is one of the eight common allergens that people may be intolerant or sensitive to.

Flavour

  • Naturally quite bitter so often is sweetened. Works well in savoury dishes.

 One of our favourites is Rude Health’s Soy Drink which is sweetened with organic rice syrup instead of sugar. Rude Health also donates 5% of their profits to charities such as Chefs in Schools and Age UK.

2. Pea Milk

Pea milk is relatively new to the table but that doesn't mean it should be discounted as one of the best milk alternatives.

 Strengths: 

  • High in protein (8g/cup).
  • Contains an omega-3 fatty acid that's linked to immunity, heart health, and cognition. 
  • Sustainable water usage as peas are grown in areas which receive lots of rain.

Weaknesses: 

  • Doesn’t contain ‘complete proteins’ which means it is missing the amino acids we can’t create but need to survive.

Flavour: 

  • Creamy and thick with an earthy flavour. 

 

 

If you are looking for a more environmentally friendly option that has a similar mouth feel to dairy milk, pea milk would be good to try. One of our favourite pea milk brands is Ripple who explain that drinking their milk alternative has a positive ripple effect on the planet. 

3. Oat Milk

Oat milk was the most popular alternative milk bought in the UK in 2020. It is also one of the best milk alternatives for not curdling when added to hot coffee or tea.

Strengths: 

  • Eco-conscious option (growing oats requires 1/6th of the water that almonds need).
  • High in healthy fibre.
  • Keeps you fuller for longer.

Weaknesses: 

  • Middling in proteins (3.5g/cup).

Flavour: 

  • Sweet, thick and creamy with a porridge-esque flavour.

 Oatly is a leading oat milk brand and for good reason. They are committed to helping the planet and are involved in multiple initiatives to improve the sustainability of the food industry. We particularly love their oat ice cream line. 

4. Almond Milk

 It is believed that almond milk was first brewed in the 1200s in the Middle East as it didn’t spoil as quickly in the heat as cow’s milk. Nowadays it is one of the best milk alternatives if you are looking for a healthy but sweet option.

Strengths:

  • Low in calories so works well for a healthy milk swap.
  • Rich source of vitamin E which is good for heart health.

Weaknesses:

  • Low in protein (2g/cup).
  • Can be produced using an unsustainable amount of water.

Flavour:

  • Almost identical to Cashew Milk. Light and sweet. Works well in baking and milky coffees. 

One important thing to consider before purchasing almond milk is that not all brands are good for the environment. Many almonds are grown in heavy drought areas, and they require a vast amount of water to grow. If you do purchase almond milk, it’s essential to double check where it comes from. Our recommended brand is Plenish who are a B-Corp and make delicious almond milk.

A light blue mug with cloud design is filled with a cappuccino made with milk alternatives on a table near a bunch of flowers.

5. Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is often considered a more eco-conscious version of almond milk. Whilst the flavour is almost identical, cashew nuts can be grown in areas where water isn’t scarce whilst almonds usually can’t. This means cashews are less of an unsustainable drain on natural resources.

Strengths:

  • Full of zinc, copper & magnesium which support a healthy immune system.
  • Copper is also a key component of healthy skincare.
  • Rich in antioxidants which support eye health. 

Weaknesses:

  • Middling in proteins (3g/cup)
  • Problems with working conditions for cashew pickers sometimes being unethical.

Flavour:

  • Almost identical to Almond Milk. Light and sweet. Works well in baking and milky coffees.

However, if you do opt for cashew milk, we strongly urge you to check the company’s labour policies. A high percentage of cashews are picked in India and Vietnam under harsh working conditions and even in labour camps. If a company is not transparent about where their cashews come from, this is usually not a good sign. We recommend Pacific Food’s Cashew Milk which is made with Fair Trade CertifiedTM cashews.

6. Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is one of the best milk alternatives to try if you want your milk to add a little extra flavour.

Strengths:

  • Packed with vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium, and vitamins B, C and E.
  • Coconut trees are considered very environmentally friendly as the whole plant can be used. 

Weaknesses:

  • High in unhealthy fats (1 cup can contain up to 20% of your daily recommended saturated fat intake).

Flavour:

  • Silky with classically fresh coconutty taste. Refreshing and works well if you want your milk to add flavour.

    The tropical taste is inescapable so if you’re a fan of piña coladas or Bounty chocolate bars, this is the milk for you! Our top pick is Alpro’s Coconut Original Chilled Drink which is made with no added sugar.

    7. Camel Milk

    Although camel milk is not plant based, it is still one of the best cow’s milk alternatives. Camel’s aren’t ruminant animals like cows which means they don’t contribute such high amounts of methane to the earth’s atmosphere.

    Strengths:

    • High in calcium
    • High in protein (6g/cup)
    • Rich in Lactoferrin which is great for gut health.
    • Low in unhealthy fats.

    Weaknesses:

    • Not vegan
    • Potentially high in environmentally friendly air miles depending on brand.

    Flavour:

    • Smooth and refreshing with an ever so slightly salty taste. Very similar to cow’s milk.

    At the moment, camel farming is considered to have a low environmental impact however there are fears that if camel farming intensifies, unsustainable practices might emerge. For some camel friendly milk, why not try Tribal Milk’s Original Camel Milk or even treat yourself to their Cold Brew Camel Vanilla Latte?

    Alternative Milks for the Future

    The next time you are brewing your morning ethical coffee, why not add a splash of alt milk? From health benefits for you, to eco benefits for the planet, making the simple swap to alternative milks is an easy way to have a positive impact. If you’re interested in learning more about how your everyday choices can affect the environment, have a look at these eco-bloggers. Wherever you are in your sustainable journey, The One Edit is here to help.