Veganism is surging in popularity all over the world.
Supermarket shelves are dedicating more and more space to plant-based products than ever before, and new vegan-friendly alternatives to traditional foods are emerging daily.
What is Vegan Milk?
Vegan milk is a light-colored juice made of various beans, nuts, seeds, and grain.
The idea of plant-based milk has existed for centuries. These beverages are more like juices or extractions, but the word milk is applied due to their milky color or creamy consistency.
Coconut and soy milk have been around forever but only in the last few decades has there been such an increase in vegan milk products. Much to the rejoice of coffee drinkers.
The rate by which people are adopting a vegan lifestyle is explosive and for good reasons.
A strictly plant-based diet can be rewarding as far as health, environmental and ethical benefits.
Still, many new vegans struggle to find satisfying alternatives to their formally relied upon animal-derived ingredients.
Certain foods are just hard to part with. And for many people, coffee is at the top of that list. Fortunately, black coffee is perfectly compliant with a vegan diet.
But the milk and cream we love to add to it are not. So once again, there’s the hunt for a plant-based alternative.
Why Use Vegan Milk?
There are myriad reasons to use vegan milk in your coffee in favor of cow milk or cream, whether or not you are a full-fledged vegan.
People who adopt a vegan lifestyle do so to eliminate all animal products from their diet.
Commonly, ethical and environmental consciousness drives this, but there are many reasons motivating vegans—each unique to the individual.
Lactose intolerance and milk protein allergies are not uncommon.
Whether or not someone has committed to a fully vegan diet, it may be necessary to avoid dairy products altogether.
Studies have shown that a vegan diet can improve health in many respects and reduce the risks of eating meat.
However, there is no good data to indicate that there are any significant benefits to drinking vegan milk over cow milk.
Dairy is not essential to our diet, but it does offer valuable vitamins, nutrients, and proteins.
Of course, you can access all of these benefits by choosing the right combination of plant-based alternatives.
How is Vegan Milk Made?
Vegan milk can derive from several sources, including nuts, grains, seeds, and legumes.
It is commonly rendered by using either one of two processes.
With the wet process, the plant source is soaked in water, sometimes for as long as 12 hours.
Once the plant material becomes softened, it is drained and milled into a paste.
Depending on the source, further processing may be necessary to remove fibers and starches, keep them stable, or achieve the right consistency.
The Dry Process
After harvesting, the source plant is dried and ground into flour.
This makes it easier to separate the protein from the starches to make for a more protein-rich, concentrated powder.
The resulting extract, whether wet-processed paste or dry-processed flour, is then be combined with water, flavors, and other modifiers to formulate the final product.
Many types of vegan milk can be engineered further into a “Barista blend.” These are made specifically for use with coffee.
Additives and emulsifiers help thicken the milk for a creamier feel and allow for it to maintain a foam resembling dairy milk.
Any of the following vegan milk products discussed will likely work better in its barista blend form, assuming one is available.
Sources of Vegan Milk
The list of plant sources for vegan milk is growing. It is not unusual for grocery stores to stock milk derived from:
Best Vegan Milk for Coffee
People can be particular about their coffee. There are a few things to consider when searching for acceptable vegan milk. Consistency, taste, and nutrition are variable across the different options.
The type and style of coffee may also affect your decision.
Hot coffee drinkers might look for something less likely to curdle. Iced coffee drinkers may want a thicker consistency expecting the melting ice to ultimately water the beverage down.
For cappuccinos and lattes, it is important to use something that will maintain a foam.
Among all of the vegan milk options, some are emerging as favorites among coffee drinkers.
Almond milk is one of the more popular dairy-free milk options. Unflavored almond milk has a slightly sweet and nutty taste.
It is subtle in flavor but a little watery in terms of constancy. If you’re looking to imitate the rich creaminess of dairy, almond milk may fall short.
Almond milk lacks some of the nutritional qualities found in cow milk.
For instance, the protein and carbohydrate content is much lower than that of dairy. It is, however, lower in calories and contains less fat.
When used in hot coffee, almond milk may curdle somewhat, so it may be preferable to iced coffee drinkers or even specialty coffee drinkers.
You can render a silky foam for a latte or cappuccino, but it tends not to hold as well as dairy milk.
Made from the water and meat of coconuts, coconut milk is creamy and on the sweeter side of the flavor spectrum.
It is a popular alternative used in many dishes and beverages but is quickly earning the embrace of vegan coffee drinkers.
Compared to cow milk, coconut milk has virtually no protein and is low in calories and carbs.
In coffee, the coconut flavor is present but subtle. Adding sweetener or other flavors to your coffee can help hide the coconut for those who aren’t a fan.
Otherwise, you can find more neutrally flavored coconut milk or one that is made specifically for coffee, usually marketed as a barista blend.
Oat milk is quickly becoming a favorite for coffee drinkers. Its creamy richness holds its own against cow milk.
High in fiber and protein and low in fat, oat milk has a health appeal that other non-dairy milk types lack.
Oat milk combines well with coffee and imparts a taste that closely resembles that of whole cow milk.
You can make specialty beverages out of it, and it works well in both hot and iced coffee.
Due to its rich creaminess, cashew milk serves as a good dairy alternative.
Its flavor is on the sweeter side with a subtle nuttiness. It is relatively easy to make at home.
Considering the time, cost, and whether you have a good recipe, it may be worth the effort to make DIY cashew milk.
Cashew milk drinkers may need to source their protein and fiber from elsewhere, but it is far lower in fat and calories than cow milk.
Cashew milk blends well with coffee and can be steamed and foamed.
However, the bubbles are slightly larger than those of cow milk, so specialty coffees can be tricky but not impossible.
Soy milk has been on coffee shop menus for years and is generally considered a great non-dairy alternative.
In the U.S., soy is often the product of genetic modification, which may be undesirable to some. And, of course, many are allergic to soy, leaving it off-limits to those people.
The flavor of soy milk is pretty neutral and does not impose on the taste of the coffee. Its creamy texture closely resembles that of cow milk. Soy milk foams up nicely, making it almost perfect for lattes and cappuccinos.
This, in part, explains its long-time popularity in coffee shops.
Hazelnut milk is worth considering if only because hazelnut flavor has been a popular additive to coffee for years.
It complements the taste of coffee beautifully and spares you the overwhelming sweetness of artificial hazelnut flavoring.
Hazelnut milk is considered a healthy option, given the presence of vitamins and beneficial fatty acids.
It is low calorie and free of cholesterol but also lacking in the protein found in cow milk.
Out of all the types of nut milk, hazelnut may have the most assertive flavor, so you have to like hazelnut for this to be a suitable option.
Ultimately it will require experimentation and taste testing before you land on plant-based milk that works for you. Personal preference will play a massive role in your decision.
Fortunately, as the vegan lifestyle’s popularity swells, so does the number of vegan food options.
Coffee drinkers can rest assured knowing that there are plenty of vegan milk products to explore. There will be a period of adjustment for new vegans.
Creating a new menu from scratch is an undertaking and requires a lot of work and patients.
But once you have landed on a go-to vegan milk alternative, you can fill in more than a few gaps in your non-animal product diet, especially when it comes to coffee.
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