Different milk substitutes
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Humans are one of the only species that drinks milk from a different animal. It wasn’t until around 10,000 years ago that humans started drinking cow’s milk. Origins of people that regularly drank cow’s milk were farmers in Western Europe. At the same time, humans were starting to live with domesticated animals. Because drinking cow’s milk is somewhat of a newer thing, human stomachs aren’t used to handling it.

With the availability of dairy substitutes increasing, restaurant owners are slowly starting to add and cook with these alternatives. Here are some of the most commonly used milk substitutes:

Soy Milk

Bowl of soy next to soy milk. A dairy alternative.

Soy is the second-largest grown crop in the United States, next to corn. Turned into milk, it was one of the first widely available non-dairy milk. It started really taking off during the First and Second World Wars when meat and dairy were scarce. It is typically sweeter and cheaper than other milk alternatives.

Benefits of Cooking With Soy Milk:

  • May lower blood pressure
  • Produces the same consistency as regular milk
  • Great for sweet and savory dishes
  • Has high levels of protein

Almond Milk

Hand holding almonds.

Almond milk has a thinner consistency than other dairy substitutes and is comparable to skim milk. It’s a great intro to dairy alternatives because of how cheap and easy it is to acquire. The challenge baristas encounter when frothing almond milk is that it can separate when foamed.

Benefits of Cooking With Almond Milk

  • High in calcium and low calorie
  • The creamy texture makes it perfect for Alfredo and other white sauces
  • Its nutty flavor can be used in both sweet and savory dishes
  • Comes in sweetened and unsweetened varieties

Rice Milk

Close up photo of rice.

A very rare allergy, rice milk is suitable for almost everyone. It is the sweetest alternative to dairy milk, so keep that in mind when cooking with it. A drawback of rice milk is that it has a higher starch concentration than other substitutes. It ranks higher on the glycemic index, a scale that measures blood sugar levels.

Benefits of Cooking With Rice Milk

  • Perfect for desserts due to natural sweetness
  • Its light texture makes it ideal for soups and light sauces
  • Has a very similar taste to cow’s milk
  • Comes in a multitude of flavors

Cashew Milk

Cashews

One of the more healthy alternatives, cashew milk is starting to take the place of almond milk in the cooking world. It’s creamier and offers more of a nutty flavor. It’s perfect when cooking sauces and ice cream alternatives. The great thing about cashew milk is its versatility. It can be added to sweet or savory recipes.

Benefits of Cooking With Cashew Milk

  • Used as a substitute for chicken and vegetable broth for added creaminess
  • Barista blends add a nutty flavor and are specially formulated to prevent separating
  • Its versatility can be added to sweet and savory dishes
  • High in monounsaturated fatty acids

Oat Milk

Oats spread out.

Oat milk has shot up in popularity over the last couple of years. Another alternative to those with nut allergies, oat milk has a great taste and is naturally creamier than other substitutes. Its taste is similar to whole milk and has taken the spot for substitutes in coffee shops. When added to shakes and smoothies, it increases the thickness of it.

Benefits of Oat Milk

  • Replicates the viscosity of dairy milk but with added flavor
  • A great substitute for those with nut allergies
  • Sweetened oat milk can be used for desserts
  • Unsweetened can be used for savory dishes

Coconut Milk

Pair of coconuts with one cut in half showing what makes coconut milk, a dairy alternative.

Coconut milk has been around a lot longer than other types of substitutes. Commonly used in Indian food, it’s very creamy and adds a lot of flavor. You can find coconut milk also used in Thai curries. When choosing coconut milk as an alternative, remember that your dish is going to absorb a lot of that coconut flavor.

Benefits of Cooking With Coconut Milk

  • Perfect for curry sauces
  • Fresh coconut milk offers more taste than canned coconut milk
  • Great to cook with lamb and similar meats

Restaurants have slowly started adding dairy alternatives to their menus over the last decade. For various reasons, chefs are adding substitutes to their menus.

Accommodate Health Allergies

Lactose intolerance is of the biggest reasons alternatives are being added to menus. It is estimated that 65% of the world has some form of lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in milk, cheese, or ice cream. 

When lactose isn’t broken down properly in the digestive tract, it becomes something called lactose malabsorption, a common symptom of lactose intolerance. Lactose malabsorption is a condition that occurs when undigested lactose passes to your colon, where bacteria break down lactose and create fluid and gas. 

Given how many people are lactose intolerant and given the side effects, it’s no wonder foodservice managers are on the lookout for dairy-free beverages and ingredients. If a customer has a dairy and nut allergy, restaurant owners can use oat or hemp. To have versatility means to have more customers.

Adding New Flavors to Your Menu

With an increased customer base, you can start to incorporate more substitutes into your menu. Cafe’s use of oat milk in coffee gives it greater flavor and a more foamy consistency. But it goes further than that. Owners and chefs are now starting to use blends of various substitutes. 

There are blends specifically created for coffee shops that are specially formulated to froth more consistency and react less to acid in coffee. If you’ve ever had soy milk curdle in coffee, it’s because of the acid in the coffee reacting with the binding agent they use to keep the soy from separating out. When cooking with dairy alternatives, it’s important to replicate the number of proteins and fat that milk has so you can create the same consistency.

For Animals and the Environment

Much like the Impossible Burger, those that are adding dairy substitutes are doing it for ethical reasons. The dairy industry has left lasting effects on the environment. According to the World Wildlife Foundation “Dairy cows and their manure produce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change and poor handling of manure and fertilizers can degrade local water resources”. Plant-based alternatives are significantly better for the environment.

Cows are fed growth hormones that promote the production of milk. This can cause the growth of tumors. Those with ethical concerns about the treatment of animals may offer dairy alternatives as a means of eliminating a guilty conscience.

Dairy alternatives are starting to take off for various reasons. Milk substitutes originally found only in stores offering natural products and ingredients, can now be found in local grocery stores across the world. With so many benefits to including dairy alternatives on your menu, it’s the perfect time for restaurateurs to start expanding their food and beverage offerings.

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