There is a wide range of plant based milks available at health food stores and grocery stores including almond, coconut, soy, rice, oat, hemp, flax, and hazelnut milk.
Every milk has a different personality depending on the source of the milk, how it is produced, and the additives and flavourings added. Even within the same source you will find a vast difference in taste, texture and quality. I find that a quick glance at the ingredient list on the packaging speaks volumes about the integrity of the product. As a general rule, I always look for products that use organic ingredients and have as few additives, preservatives, stabilizers, thickeners and sweeteners as possible.
I make my own raw milks wherever possible by blending any nut, seed, or grain with water in my blender. They are absolutely delicious, fresh, and free from any additives. I have complete control over the integrity of the milk - the flavour, texture, and sweetness, and I can make them more digestible by neutralizing the enzyme inhibitors and activating the full nutrient potential by soaking the ingredients before I blend them.
For nutrient diversity and culinary pleasure, I blend up a different milk every day - almond milk, cashew milk, hemp seed milk, pumpkin seed milk, sunflower seed milk, hazelnut milk, Brazil nut milk, coconut milk, raw macadamia milk, and sacha inchi milk, for use in smoothies and other recipes.
On a daily basis I blend raw almond milk with green juice to make alkalizing green milk.
I will use commercial soy, rice, hemp, almond, and coconut milk for baking.
I use different plant based milks in different circumstances depending on my flavour and texture preferences. For use in recipes, it is best to strain milks.
Tips for Making Milks
A high-speed blender yields the best results when making plant based milks. They really pulverize the nuts, seeds, and grains. Having said that, you can make milk in any blender. You will just need to strain more in order to get the texture you want.
Macadamias, pecans and cashews yield milks that are incredibly smooth in a high speed blender and do not require straining. In a conventional blender you will need to strain them to achieve a smooth consistency. Brazil Nuts, almonds, and other foods yield milks with some texture. You can drink the milk like this retaining all of the healthy fibre. However, if you want a more commercial-style milk, you will need to strain the blend with a nut milk bag. You can even use a sheer knee high panty hose.
I recommend soaking nuts, seeds, and grains to remove the enzyme inhibitors, activate the full nutrient potential of the food making it more digestible. Soaking also softens the food so that liquefy more easily. Refer to my soaking page for a guide on how long to soak each ingredient.
Note: sometimes you have to run the blender for a while in order to achieve the smoothest results, which warms up your blender, and thus the milk. Don’t be alarmed. The milk will not spoil. Just chill in the fridge, or add some ice-cubes into the blender to cool if you are using the milk straight away.
Home made nut milks will safely keep in a cold fridge in a glass jar or jug for about 2-3 days. The milk might separate a little, and get a bit of a skim on the top. Just give it a stir or a quick pulse in the blender before using and you will be good to go.
Freeze any extra nut milk into ice cube trays and then collect in freezer bags, for quick use later.
Here are the gluten free vegan milks I use most often:
--Almond milk has a mild, light nutty flavour that makes it ideal for use in sweet desserts and pancake batters. It is my favourite milk to make smoothies, as it combines so well with fruit and is not overpowering, lending itself to all kinds of flavours. It is also wonderful on cereals. I tend to choose milks with a higher fat content and creamier consistency like soy and hemp milks in baked goods in order to more closely replicate the quality of cow’s milk and buttermilk. Almond milk can be a little too watery for a lot of recipes. Having said that, I have used almond milk in muffin and bread recipes where only a small amount of milk is required with excellent results.
Commercially produced almond milk is widely available. Purchase it in plain, unsweetened, chocolate and vanilla flavours. However, many brands contain additives, preservatives and often sweeteners; and are made from either boiled or roasted almonds. Whilst this produces an almond milk with a slightly richer flavor, it is preferable to use raw almonds to capitalize on their rich nutritional profile. Many milks are removing carrageenan (a thickening agent that has been linked to colon cancer and digestive disorders in various medical studies), but some are still using it. So, check labels to ensure you're purchasing a clean product.
I prefer to blend up my own almond milk using raw almonds that have been soaked. That way I can remove the enzyme inhibitors and release the full nutrient potential of the food for better nutrition and digestion. Raw almond milk is easy to make.
Place 1 cup of raw almonds into a non-reactive glass, ceramic, or metal bowl and cover with filtered water and a pinch of Celtic sea salt. Cover the bowl with a soft breathable cloth, and allow the nuts to soak at room temperature for 8 hours. Drain, discard the soaking liquid, and rinse thoroughly with filtered water until the water comes out clean. Throw the drained soaked almonds into your blender with 3 to 4 cups of filtered water depending on how rich you want your milk. Most people strain their almond milk with a nut milk bag in order to achieve a smooth texture, but I like it rustic and don’t strain for the full-fiber effect unless I'm using the milk in recipes. If you don't have a dedicated nut milk bag, grab a sheer knee-high piece of hoisery to strain your almond milk. After straining, the remaining almond pulp can be used to make raw cookies, power bars, sweet or savory pie crusts, or stuffing base for roasted tomatoes and peppers. Mix with a bit of sweet almond oil to make a brilliant nutrient-rich body scrub.
Use plain, unsweetened almond milk for recipes. To drink or use on cereals, you can boost the flavor of your homemade almond milk with a splash of almond or vanilla extract; and sweeten it by blending in some pitted dates, pure maple syrup, coconut nectar, yacon syrup, or stevia. Chocolate almond milk is delicious using raw cacao nibs and sweetener. You can also get even more creative with fruit, cinnamon, and ginger.
Home made almond milk made with soaked nuts will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. If you skip the soaking, your milk will last for about 5 days, but will not be as easily digested. Don't be alarmed when the milk separates when left to sit. This is a sign it's pure. Just give it a stir or a shake before using.
Homemade almond milk is low in saturated fats and carbohydrates, and is lactose and cholesterol free. It contains all of the nutrients of the whole almond, and is packed with protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and omega fatty acids, as well as Vitamins B, D and E, magnesium, potassium and copper. Almonds are also one of the only alkaline nuts, and contain over 20 different antioxidant flavanoids that combat oxidation and abnormal cell development.
Brazil Nut Milk
Brazil nut milk is absolutely delicious, nutritious and makes an unbelievable milk that is phenomenal in smoothies. Once you taste a raw smoothie made with Brazil nut milk, you will never look back. Home made Brazil nut milk is easily made by grinding raw soaked Brazil nuts with some filtered water in your blender.
Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of selenium (about 2,500 times more than any other nut), making them a fantastic “complete vegetarian protein” with a full amino acid profile. Just two raw Brazil nuts accounts for the daily requirement! Selenium intake has been linked to heart and prostate health, as is known to prevent cancer, combat viruses and boost immunity.
I try to drink a few glasses (one batch) of home made Brazil nut milk a week to get my "brain food" fix! Or I just slip a few Brazil nuts into my mouth every day. To make Home made Brazil nut milk just soak one cup of raw Brazil nuts for about three hours and blend them in your blender with 3 - 4 cups of filtered water, depending on how rich you want your milk. You can then strain the milk with a nut milk bag. But I like it rustic and whole. You can then flavour this milk with a teaspoon of vanilla extract, a few pitted dates or maple syrup, and a pinch of Celtic sea salt. If you want a richer, creamier milk you can always add a couple of tablespoons of organic coconut butter and a tablespoon of NON GM soy or sunflower seed lecithin.
Try making chocolate Brazil nut milk by adding raw cacao powder or carob powder. It is scrumptious! Berries, cinnamon, or ginger are also spectacular additions. Commercial Brazil nut milk is not yet available, so you will have to make your own. Give it a go – you will not believe how fantastic it is.
Cashew milk is rich and creamy and doesn't need straining if you use a high speed blender. Just throw 1 cup of raw soaked cashews into your blender with 3-4 cups of filtered water (depending on how rich you want the milk) and you will get a smooth creamy milk that doesn’t need anything else. You can flavour it with vanilla extract, a touch of sweetener and a pinch of Celtic sea salt for a wonderful base. You can also get more creative and blend up all kinds of scrumptious flavoured cashew milk using berries, cacao powder, cinnamon, and ginger.
Raw cashew milk is fantastic for use in smoothies for those of you following traditional food combining practices. Unlike a lot of plant based milks such as rice, quinoa and soy, nut milks such as almond, macadamia, Brazil nut and cashew milk combine very well for easy digestibility and assimilation. Cashews replicate the buttery flavor of pastry in smoothies so I use cashews or cashew milk in my pie in a glass smoothie. Try my apple pie smoothie as an example of how glorious cashew milk and fruit can be! Cashew milk is not commercially available like some of the other nut milks.
Coconut water or coconut juice is low in calories, low in carbohydrates, and almost completely fat free. Dubbed as “nature’s Gatorade”, coconut water is a natural isotonic energy drink, which assists in maintaining the body’s electrolyte balance. In fact on cup of coconut water contains more electrolytes than most commercial sports drinks. It is high in protein, B Vitamins and Ascorbic Acid; and contains zinc, selenium, iodine, sulfur, manganese, boron and molybdenum. It is also loaded with potassium. One cup of coconut water contains more potassium than a banana.
Fresh coconut water is an all round magical health elixir – boosting the function of the liver, thyroid, kidneys and gall bladder. Not to mention the beautifying powers! Coconut water is great for skin spots and cracked lips.
But coconut water is not a new thing. It has been a popular drink of choice in the tropics for a long time. When I lived in Singapore we bought young green coconuts from street vendors and drank coconut water straight out of the coconut with a straw. This is a familiar indulgence in other parts of South East Asia, the Pacific Islands, Hawaii and the Caribbean.
The water from Young Thai (green) coconuts is always preferred. As the coconut matures, the sugar content increases, and the ascorbic acid content decreases. Therefore the nutritional profile is a lot more in our favour if we get them young!
I use coconut water a lot in smoothies and other recipes. I also make raw coconut kefir every week as a powerful probiotic drink. It is essential to use fresh coconut water to make coconut kefir. It is always preferable to use fresh coconut water for the other recipes, but if you are in a hurry and don’t have time to crack open your own coconuts, which can be time consuming and messy, it is okay to use the store bought variety, that is readily available from health food stores and grocers. You can find raw coconut water in some health food stores now.
Purchase pure 100% coconut water with no additives or preservatives. Another option is to open fresh coconuts in batches and freeze the water for use later. Just remember to leave about an inch at the top of the container, as the water will expand when frozen. It is better to use it fresh.
Coconut milk is rich, creamy and decadent. Fresh coconut milk is widely used as a cooking base in cuisines all over South East Asia, Polynesia, the Carribbean, Hawaii and Brazil with spectacular results ranging from curries and stews to gorgeous fragrant desserts.
Coconut milk is made by squeezing grated coconut milk through cheesecloths. Two grades of fresh coconut milk are available in Asia -- thick coconut milk and thin coconut milk. Thick coconut milk is the product of the first press. This press has a thick, paste like consistency closer to coconut cream. This thick milk is traditionally used for desserts, ice creams and sauces. Thin coconut milk is made by soaking the fresh pressed coconut in warm water and squeezing it a second and third time. Thin coconut milk has a much higher water content and is more suitable for use in smoothies, drinks, curries and stews.
In the West, we can purchase concentrated coconut cream and coconut milk in cans. Coconut cream just contains less added water. Typically, the coconut cream and milk we purchase is a combination of thick and thin coconut milk with thickening agents, stabilizers and water added. I like to make my own coconut milk using fresh raw coconut meat and coconut water. When I purchase coconut milk in cans, I always purchase 100% pure coconut cream, which is just fresh coconut kernel extract. Ayam is a wonderful commercial brand that is widely available. I then add in the desired amount of filtered water in order to achieve the desired consistency. Just give the can a good shake before using.
You can also purchase coconut milk in cartons, which is much more watery and resembles the consistency of dairy milk. This coconut milk is great for smoothies, drinks, and some baked goods. However, if I am using commercial coconut milk, I prefer the canned variety for curries, stews, soups, ice creams and desserts.
Try making oatmeal (porridge), rice pudding, or creamy millet or quinoa cereals with coconut milk. It is just sublime. Sprinkle some raw cacao nibs, nuts and maple syrup.
Hemp milk is a creamy milk made by blending hemp seeds and filtered water. I drink mine unstrained for maximum nutritional benefit. But you strain it for a smoother milk.
Hemp seeds have a rich nutty flavour similar to sunflower seeds. Commercial hemp milk has a similar consistency to soy milk, in fact some brands are thicker and creamier than soy milk. I have had huge success using hemp milk with a straight 1:1 substitution ratio in baked goods, pies, and desserts. It is also absolutely delicious as a base in smoothies, and makes a phenomenal base for ice creams.
Hemp milk is a fantastic alternative to dairy, soy and nut milks for those people suffering from food allergies. Hemp milk is highly nutritious. It is a great source of protein, containing ten essential amino acids, and is a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, fibre and B Vitamins; as well as omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Hemp milk has been linked heart and skin health and is known immune booster.
There are quite a few commercial hemp milks on the market now. Try to purchase organic hemp milk without additives and preservatives, and avoid any brands that use carrageenan as a thickening agent. I prefer to make my own homemade hemp milk. You can flavour with vanilla extract, dates and a pinch of Celtic sea salt. I just drink my milk without straining out the solids. But if you prefer a really smooth milk product, try using the solid residue as a body and face scrub. It is fantastic mixed with some organic coconut oil.
It is so easy to make raw macadamia milk. Just blend raw macadamis with water in your blender. The great thing about macadamias is that they need very little soaking. They are a short soak nut that only requires 2-4 hours soaking. Any more will compromise their precious oils. Macadamias are so soft, that the milk blends up like a homogenized butter milk in seconds, requiring no straining!
Macadamia milk is not commercially available so you will have to make it yourself. It is just downright scrumptious! Use it in a raw smoothie and you will never look back. Try my chocolate macadamia smoothie. Macadamia milk is so rich and creamy it makes a fantastic base for raw puddings and desserts. I don't use macadamia milk for baking.
Rice milk is made by grinding boiled brown rice and filtered water. It is a grain milk that can be a lifesaving substitute for those on plant based diets and those allergic to soy, dairy or nuts. It is lactose free and cholesterol free. Rice milk is widely available at supermarkets and health food stores. But they are almost always fortified with calcium and Vitamin D (a red flag for me) and are thickened with carrageenan or other agents. They also contain polyunsaturated vegetable oils and sweeteners such as rice syrup, barley malt or evaporated cane juice. Add that to the already high carbohydrate content and low protein content and you are basically drinking a large glass of sugar juice!
I don’t use a lot of rice milk as I find it rater watery and tasteless, and lacks the nutritional density and depth of flavour of other plant based milks such as almond and hemp milk. However, it is wonderful for those people with serious food allergies. It is also inexpensive.
Rice milk is great for use in smoothies and pancake batters; and for topping cereals. I tend to choose plant based milks with a higher fat content and creamier consistency like soy and hemp milks in baked goods, in order to more closely replicate the quality of cow’s milk and buttermilk. Rice milk can be a little too watery for a lot of recipes. Having said that, I have used rice milk in muffin and bread recipes with a 1:1 ratio where only a small amount of milk is required with excellent results. Erin McKenna uses rice milk in most of her famous Baby Cakes recipes with absolutely fantastic results.
Commercial rice milk is available in chocolate, vanilla and almond varieties. Just make sure it is gluten free for those people with food allergies. I always make homemade rice milk using soaked brown rice that removes the enzyme inhibitors making it more digestible.
Soy milk is the most common substitute for dairy milk in most cafes and restaurants for use in coffee, tea, smoothies and desserts, and I find it one of the easiest ways to replicate the creaminess of dairy milk in recipes with a 1:1 substitution ratio. I use a little bit of soy milk in baked goods. However, I find hemp milk even creamier and prefer to use it if a large amount of milk is required in a recipe.
Soy milk is made by soaking soy beans and grinding them with filtered water. Commercial soy milks are widely available and are basically an emulsion of soy, oil, water and sweeteners in differing proportions. Soy milks were definitely not created equal and it is really important to read the labelling. A lot of soy milks are not gluten free. They contain barley malt. The sugar content varies considerably with proprietary blends, ranging from acceptable to downright scary. Many brands of commercial soy milks also contain polyunsaturated oils that I find undesirable.
I don't consume a lot of soy due to the high levels of soy estrogens and isoflavones can have a negative impact on hormone levels and thyroid function in the body. Soy milk contains a substance that mimics estrogen in the body and has been shown in many studies to increase the risk of breast cancers in men and women, and effect menstrual cycles. I used to cook a lot with soy, but in the last five years I have moved away from it due to this estrogenic affect on the body.
There are also more nutritionally dense plant based milk alternatives. Soy milk does not contain any significant natural calcium, as the kind contained in the soy bean pulp is not able to be absorbed in the body, Furthermore, non fermented soy products such as soy milk and tofu contain enzyme inhibitors and anti nutrients that can wreak havoc in our digestive systems. These little nasties are not destroyed by regular cooking, and soy beans contain higher levels of phytic acid than any other legume, which impairs the absorption of essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
For this reason, I prefer to consume fermented soy products such as miso, tempeh and natto. The fermentation process increases the bio-availability and digestibility of beneficial soy nutrients and neutralizes the enzyme-inhibitors and anti-nutrients. The other problem with soy is the prolific nature of genetically modified soy beans thanks to beasts like Monsanto. Make sure you are purchasing organic soy milk that does not use genetically modified ingredients and is free of sweeteners, stabilizers and additives.
I prefer to use raw almond milk for everyday use. But for those of you with nut allergies try hemp milk if you can tolerate it and you will be amazed.