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There are myriad reasons why people might want to try an alternative to dairy milk: lactose intolerance, the decision to avoid products derived from animals, or even just mere curiosity. But for whichever reason, there are lots of interesting, plant-based “milks” – the most common of which are made from ingredients like rice, oats, soy, hemp or almonds that are boiled in water and then blended and strained. While the resulting liquid is called milk no matter which product it comes from, the nutritional composition varies according to the basic ingredient.
Generally speaking, when cooking, soy milk can usually be substituted for dairy milk in just about every recipe as it’s similar to cow’s milk with regards to fat and protein content – while almond or rice milk is best used when making desserts as they are both naturally sweet. All of these various plant-based milks are available in flavored and sweetened versions, and often come fortified with nutrients like B vitamins and calcium.
Almond milk, with its delicious aroma and creamy consistency, is rich and protein and perfect in desserts. In Sicilian cuisine, almond milk is a key ingredient and the sweetened version is the basis for the delicious and refreshing granita di mandorle. Coconut milk, derived from the blended pulp of the fruit mixed with its own water, is very rich in natural fats: it’s used to make the Pina Colada cocktail as well as an ingredient in many savory Asian dishes like curry. Hemp milk doesn’t contain any psychoactive substances, but is rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6 and is both rich in protein and easily digestible. Oat milk maintains many of the health properties of the plant: it’s rich in protein and helps the immune system. It’s also great for making you hair and skin shine.
The lightest and most digestible kind of plant-based milks is rice milk. It’s perfect for those who have food allergies but is also virtually fat and protein-free, which makes it rather unsuitable for cooking, as it adds no creaminess to dishes. Rice milk has a very delicate taste, which makes it a refreshing drink or a suitable accompaniment for breakfast cereals.
Commonly used and widely distributed, soy milk can be found in infinite variations and comes in flavors like chocolate, banana, pumpkin, barley and even caramel. It is often enriched with vitamins, calcium and magnesium, and its flavor often varies according to the manufacturer. It’s best to choose milk made from organic soybeans so you are sure they’ve been grown without the use of pesticides and haven’t been genetically modified.
It’s even possible to make your own plant-based milks at home: all you need is a bit of time and the desire to experiment. Check out this link for an easy, quick, excellent recipe for almond milk!