The New Milks
INTRODUCTION MEET THE NEW PLANT-BASED MILKS
A tall glass of cold milk: so simple and iconic. But gone are the days when milk always meant cow’s milk, with its bright-white hue and aura of nurture and comfort. Today, the term could just as well connote a creamy beverage made from water plus nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, coconuts, or tubers. Although not a new invention, these plant-based milks (also known as alternative, vegan, or non-dairy milks) taste amazing, are as delicious as their base ingredients, and address many nutritional, philosophical, and culinary needs. Turns out there are at least fifty shades of white.
On the nutritional front, non-dairy milks are a boon for anyone who is lactose intolerant. This condition appears in people who lack the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose (the sugar naturally present in milk). When consuming dairy products—especially those that aren’t fermented, namely milk—these people experience stomach discomfort and a variety of other symptoms.
Lactose intolerance is surprisingly common. The National Institutes of Health estimates that “approximately 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy,” with the condition especially prevalent among those of West African, Asian, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent. According to the website for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov
), “The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant,” including “up to 75% of all adult African Americans and Native Americans and 90% of Asian Americans.”
Even if you aren’t lactose intolerant, you may be one of the millions of people who follow a low-cholesterol, vegan, kosher, or Paleolithic
diet. Or, perhaps you’re allergic to dairy. If you fit into one or more of these categories, you’ll find that non-dairy milks offer an exceptional alternative to dairy.
Philosophically, non-dairy milks represent a humane and ecologically sensitive choice. On many large dairy farms, female cows are separated from their young, constricted in small pens, and kept in a perpetual nursing state. When let out to graze, these same cows require ample land, and release significant amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere, which takes a toll on the environment.
Perhaps most important of all, plant-based milks are a cook’s dream. They enrich our culinary arsenal, allowing us to tailor milks to specific recipes. We can use sweet and nutty hazelnut milk for porridges, thick coconut milk for ice creams, and creamy cashew milk for cream sauces.
Nearly every supermarket now stocks a selection of nut, seed, legume, grain, and coconut milks, and many coffee shops offer soy, almond, and coconut milks. However, if you want full control over the consistency and content of your milk, or wish to experiment with alternative flavors, you’ll find that you can prepare your own batches with minimal effort.
Given all of these benefits, it’s high time we broadened our definition of milk and explored the uncharted territory of plant-based alternatives!
THE NEW VERSUS THE MOO: A BRIEF NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS
Although plant-based and cow milk are not identical nutritionally, they are comparable from a health perspective.
On the pro side, plant-based milks contain no cholesterol, lactose, or hormones. In general, they are loaded with phosphorus, potassium, folate, and magnesium just by merit of their nutritionally dense base ingredients. In addition, many varieties are high in calcium, vitamins, and minerals, thanks in large part to fortification. Pistachio nuts and pumpkin seeds are particularly high in protein, and nearly every seed milk is a good source of healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. However, most packaged milks are strained and prepared with a low ratio of solids to water. As a result, they tend to be less nutrient-rich than their dairy counterparts. As Guy Crosby, science editor for America’s Test Kitchen and adjunct associate professor at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, puts it, “nut milks contain the contents of only a small number of nuts. So drinking an eight-ounce glass is equivalent to eating about four nuts.”
The solution to this nutritional imbalance is to purchase fortified products, or prepare your own unstrained versions with higher ratios of solids to water.
To decide which milk alternatives are best for your particular needs, look over the chart on the next page, talk with your doctor, and consider any food allergies or health issues you have.
The chart on the next page compares the nutritional stats of some of the most popular and widely available packaged alternative milks, as well as their dairy counterparts. Keep in mind that the exact nutritional content of non-dairy milk varies from brand to brand. If you prepare your own unstrained milks and use a higher ratio of raw materials to water, you’ll glean more nutrients.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION (PER EIGHT-OUNCE CUP)
5mg Click here to see this table as an image
THE LAND OF MILKS AND HONEY: SHOPPING FOR PACKAGED MILKS
When I crave the freshest, purest, and most delicious milk, I make my own. However, I’m also a fan of packaged products, for convenience, smoothness (a boon when cooking), and long shelf life. While homemade milks last only three to four days in the fridge, packaged refrigerated milks can be stored for several weeks. Shelf-stable or aseptic milks keep for even longer—generally several months. These products are ideal for preparing the 113 breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, breads, and drinks in this book.
Natural food chains, such as Whole Foods Market, tend to offer the most extensive selection of vegan milks. However, every major grocery store now stocks some. Look for perishable products in the refrigerated dairy section and aseptic boxes on the shelves.
What’s in Packaged Milks?
Most packaged milks contain the ingredients listed below. Be sure to read the nutritional panel and ingredient list; if you avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are especially relevant when choosing a soy milk, purchase organic milk.
• OILS AND THICKENERS (xanthan, guar, gellan, and locust bean gums—which most studies have shown to be benign) make vegan milks thicker and creamier.
• STABILIZERS AND EMULSIFIERS (lecithin, carrageenan) prevent ingredients from separating and maintain consistency. While lecithin is derived from soy (and is an ingredient in most chocolate bars), carrageenan comes from seaweed. If you have a soy allergy or are concerned about carrageenan (some research has linked it to stomach upset), be on the lookout. As a result of the carrageenan controversy, Silk brand non-dairy milks no longer contain the ingredient.
• SWEETENERS (such as cane sugar) and flavors make milks taste good. After all, dairy milk contains lactose (natural milk sugar), while plant-based milks are, for the most part, very low in natural sugars. If you’d like to avoid these added sugars, make sure the word “unsweetened” appears on the package. (Most “original” versions include sweeteners.) I almost always opt for unsweetened, since such milks are healthier and more versatile. That said, flavored and sweetened products are delicious solo as a treat or incorporated into desserts and breakfast dishes, such as pancakes and bread pudding.
• VITAMINS, MINERALS, PROTEIN, AND CALCIUM: If you will be drinking non-dairy milk exclusively, purchase fortified milks or be sure to eat a well-balanced diet.
THE MILKY WAY: DIY PLANT-BASED MILKS AND CREAMS
Preparing your own vegan milks and creams is fun, easy, and low-tech. You’ll be able to whip up a myriad of varieties and customize their tastes, textures, and nutritional properties. Countless methods abound, offering you lots of creative license, but the basic technique couldn’t be simpler:
1. Soak solid ingredients (or not).
2. Rinse solid ingredients.
3. Cook, if necessary.
4. Combine solids with fresh water in a blender or food processor. Strain (or not).
Read on for details, including necessary equipment, plus tips and techniques.
For any non-dairy milk, you’ll need the following:
• A large bowl
• A blender or food processor: High-speed blenders, such as the Breville Boss, are most effective at preparing plant-based milks, although food processors also work.
If you plan to strain (see “Blending and Straining
”), you’ll also need:
• A nut milk bag, handheld fine strainer, unused panty hose, or a few layers of cheesecloth. Reusable nut milk bags, which will yield the most (and best-strained) milk, resemble a cross between cheesecloth and a pastry bag. Since they can be difficult to find in stores, you may need to order online, such as on www.amazon.com
(they cost about ten dollars).
Differences between Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream, and Non-Dairy Creamer
COCONUT MILK comes in several forms. “Coconut milk beverage,” akin to low-fat milk in terms of fat content, contains between 4.5 and 5 grams per cup. Look for it in refrigerated cartons or shelf-stable boxes. Meanwhile, light and full-fat “coconut milks” are intended for cooking, and come in cans (stocked in the Asian section) or in either refrigerated cartons or aseptic boxes (designated as “culinary coconut milk”). Full-fat coconut milk (canned or “culinary”) contains 14 to 15 grams of fat per one third cup, compared to 5 grams for light.
Similar to whipped cream or whipped topping, “coconut cream” or “creamed coconut” contains about 3 grams of fat per tablespoon and makes an ideal base for vegan ice cream. Literally the fat that rises to the top of canned full-fat coconut milk, coconut cream is not synonymous with the sweetened “cream of coconut” used in cocktails. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find. Order online (the brands Let’s Do . . . Organic, Native Forest, and Aroy-D make it) or purchase at Trader Joe’s or health food stores (call first to make sure stores carry it).
Otherwise, purchase a can of full-fat coconut milk whose contents do not slosh around when shaken (shake the can and listen to be sure). Then chill overnight. Open the can (do not shake first), and scoop the solid coconut cream off the surface. Or, make your own coconut cream from homemade coconut milk (see “Preparing Coconut Milk
,”). If you will be using canned coconut milk to prepare Whipped Coconut Cream
, avoid brands that contain guar gum (at press time, Goya and Aroy-D canned coconut milk were free of the ingredient).
Several companies also make (sweetened) non-dairy creamers, typically based on coconuts, soybeans, almonds, or hazelnuts. Since these products—found in the refrigerated dairy section—are sweetened, I tend to avoid them.
For legume (i.e., soybean) and grain milks, you’ll need:
• A saucepan
• (Optional, but helpful): A soy milk machine, such as the Soyajoy G4 Automatic Soy Milk Maker, which can also be used for preparing other vegan milks. At about one hundred dollars, the machine is cost-effective and will soon pay for itself.
For coconut milk made from whole coconuts, you’ll need:
• A Phillips screwdriver
• A hammer, mallet, or rolling pin
• A dish towel
• A sharp paring knife
• (Optional, but helpful): A vegetable peeler
For preparing flour or meal out of leftover nut, seed, cooked legume, cooked grain, and coconut solids:
• (Optional, but helpful): A food processor, such as the Breville Sous Chef
The Raw Materials
Nuts and Seeds
• Try hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and more.
Start with any nuts out of their shells. You can use whole or sliced, blanched (i.e., no skins) or with skins (but avoid nut and seed flours). For seeds, opt for whole. Kayleen St. John, resident dietician at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, and Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, both agree that whole nuts with skins supply more health benefits, as they’re high in phytonutrients, flavonoids, fiber, and flavor. From a food science perspective, however, Guy Crosby argues that “the presence of skins makes it more difficult for the nuts to absorb water during soaking, slowing down the milk-making process.” So, if you plan to use nuts with skins, allow for extra soaking and blending time.
When purchasing nuts and seeds, look for unsalted varieties, so you can control the flavor. I also prefer raw (unroasted), since they tend to be softer, enabling them to break down more easily (though you can use roasted nuts and seeds to create milks with deeper, more caramelized flavors). Visit the bulk section of your grocery store, and see what they have. Or go “shopping” in your pantry or freezer: I love to chill nuts, seeds, and whole grains in the freezer so they stay fresh longer.
• Try soybeans, mung beans, and more.
Look for dried (raw) legumes in the bulk section of your grocery or health food store. If you’re concerned about pesticides and GMOs, seek out organic or non-GMO soybeans (I order mine from www.nuts.com
). Avoid flours.
• Try quinoa, oats, wheat berries, millet, barley, farro, brown rice, and more.
Use whatever grains you have on hand, but not leftover takeout rice, which can pose food safety issues. (Just make sure grains are cooked before using.) Although quinoa is technically a seed, treat it like a grain. If possible, purchase a prerinsed white variety, as it’s lighter in hue and free of the hull’s bitter coating. If it has not been prerinsed, make sure to rinse it. Do not use flour.
• Try whole or shredded coconut.
Look for whole coconuts whose contents slosh around when you shake them (signifying the presence of coconut water). If you can’t find whole coconuts, you can use unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut (look for directions on page xix
), though the results are less than optimal. Do not use coconut flour.
• Try tiger nuts.
Tiger nuts (chufas) are small tubers popular in West Africa and Spain, where they’re used
to make milk-like beverages called kunnu and horchata de chufa, respectively. They’re available at some Whole Foods Markets and health food stores and at www.organicgemini.com
. Soaking them before blending and straining will yield a naturally sweet, creamy white milk.
Try mixing raw materials, such as coconut with almonds or different grains. Here are a few ideas:
• Coconut-almond, coconut-hazelnut, coconut-pistachio
• Mung bean–soy (for a savory milk, excellent for stews, soups, and porridges)
• Brown rice–buckwheat (for malty pancakes), brown rice–millet
Soaking (Not Required for Coconuts and Small Seeds)
In most cases, you’ll want to begin by soaking your solid ingredients. This is especially true for legumes, grains, and hard nuts, though you do not need to soak coconut or small seeds (such as flax or sesame). To soak, cover the raw ingredients with a couple of inches of water, and let sit at room temperature for at least eight hours. (Softer grains, such as oats, can soak for just a couple of hours.) Rinse and drain.
Why soak? According to Crosby, “when raw nuts are first soaked in water, the water is absorbed into the nuts, so subsequent grinding releases the oils (fat) as tiny droplets, which form a creamy emulsion. When the solid nut particles are strained off, the remaining liquid is similar to cow’s milk, containing droplets of fat, proteins, sugars, and salts (minerals) dispersed in water. This step must be included to make a milk-like liquid.” Some also feel that soaking removes or neutralizes the phytic acid present in most beans, grains and nuts, allowing the body to absorb more of their nutrients. (Coconut does not contain phytic acid, and does not need to be soaked.)
If you want to take soaking farther, try sprouting, which involves soaking the raw material in water, and rinsing repeatedly, until sprouts form or germination occurs. While St. John, Crosby, and Katz all agree that absorbable nutritional content tends to rise as a result of soaking and sprouting, there is little hard data on its effects. You can also purchase sprouted ingredients; look in the bulk section at Whole Foods Market and health food stores.
Cooking (Only Required for Legumes, including Soybeans, and Grains)
For milk that is easy to digest and tastes great, legumes must be soaked, rinsed, and cooked. I also highly recommend cooking grains for grain milks; doing so yields thicker, milder milks with rounded flavors. See the next page for details on cooking legumes and grains.
Blending and Straining
Although it’s slightly pricier, I prefer a higher ratio of solid material to water (generally 1:2), for a more flavorful and creamier milk. Plus, I can always dilute later on, if necessary. To achieve a great result, blend on the “puree” setting until smooth (one or two minutes with a high-speed blender, and up to five minutes with a less powerful blender or food processor).
In general, the less water you use, the
thicker and more flavorful your milk will be, and the lower the yield. For strained milks, your yield should be similar to the amount of water you used. For unstrained milks, it should be about the same as the sum total of solids and water you used.
I generally recommend straining for milk, especially if you’ll be using it in recipes, since doing so results in a more refined, milk-like liquid. (Do not strain for creams.) Note, though, that straining does remove many nutrients from the milk. If you’re making a batch of milk to drink, you may wish to leave it unstrained (and perhaps fortify it as well, as described on page xx
To strain, position a clean nut milk bag over a large bowl or wide pitcher. Gather up the sides of the bag, and squeeze out the milk. You will most likely need to wring it out repeatedly (especially for legume milk). I’ve found that a nut milk bag will last for about ten uses, so make sure to keep more than one on hand. To clean the bag, turn it inside out and rinse very well. Keep your strained-out solids for use later on (see page xxi