by Natascha Hildebrandt
[Natascha and I sometimes run together, and she and a few other running buddies decided to have a vegan July (no, I did not join them). They all have had interesting experiences, but Natascha was focused, oddly enough, on her daily coffee. When I heard she was trying every non-dairy milk she could find, I asked her to write up her experiences. Voila – mb]
Inspired by some vegan ultra athletes, I decided to go on a vegan adventure for the month of July. Looking at what I ate it seemed like the hardest things to give up would be butter, the milk in my cappuccino, and butter. I have since found that it’s easy to live without butter. (Where you would use a tablespoon, you now substitute half an avocado. Clearly I won’t be shedding any pounds during this experiment.) The two percent milk cappuccino is a bit more of a challenge.
My initial reaction to all of the milk substitutes was pretty much “ick.” But it’s amazing: you can get used to anything. The second is better than the first; by the third, well, you can live with it. Generally, you will probably be happier if your palate is a little on the sweet side. (Mine is not—I’m happier in the land of the tart and bitter.) Though I chose unsweetened and unflavored “milks” to compare, they are all definitely sweeter than their dairy sister. They are all perfectly good in pancakes or cooking, and, amazingly, they all make acceptable foam for cappuccino.
Rice milk is a good one to start with as it’s quite benign. It has a watery consistency and pretty neutral taste. It foams like fat free milk, puffy foam that holds up, but not creamy. (Rice and almond milk had the least fat.)
It’s hard to imagine that hemp milk is not made from t-shirt juice. I tried not to burst out laughing in Whole Foods when I first saw this. In fact it’s made from the seeds of the plants; and no, it won’t make you high. Great in pancakes, but slightly chalky texture on its own. Rather neutral taste though so that was good. Could easily live with this one as well.
Soy milk is the most obvious alternative to dairy milk. It varies a lot by brand. Several seem cloying or bitter in a medicinal way (not like dark chocolate). Only a few are from non-genetically modified soy beans, which may be a consideration.
I had a soy cappuccino at Joe’s which was so good I convinced them to sell me some of what they use. It’s made by Pacific Foods and sold only to Baristas. Too bad because it makes really creamy foam and tastes great, despite being lowfat. (Of course it costs five times as much as milk!) It must be the combination of sugar and some fat that covers the natural taste of soy.
Almond milk (I used organic unsweetened from Pacific Foods) was the only one that was beige. It holds foam better than the others, but still has a weird background taste, sweet and bitter at the same time. But the impressive foam really holds its integrity.
It’s very different from fresh almond milk. A generous friend invited me to breakfast and fed me granola with milk from One Lucky Duck in the Chelsea market. I’m guessing it’s roughly $800 per tub and is quite sweet. I didn’t have the balls to ask for a take-out cup.
Coconut “milk beverage” (organic, unsweetened). Yum! Fat! Truly delicious. And even it foams, a nice, not pushy foam. It tastes distantly of coconut, in a pleasantly subtle way. Probably not the best plan to have daily with your avocado toast though… On the other hand, it still has less fat than hemp and tastes a whole lot better. Also, this was the only milk containing a single ingredient: coconut.
Is it worth it? It really depends on why you are using the alternative. The pseudo-milks are definitely more expensive and less tasty, and some have more sugar (though milk has sugar in it too), calories, and/or fat. But if you have a good reason, chances are you can find a friend among the many options.
So far I’m neither running a 6 minute mile, nor are men dropping at my feet. (Well, one did, but only because he heard these criteria in the running group. And of course he’s married and was just being funny.) Maybe there’s a reason all the vegan ultra athletes are men. It’s almost August and I think I’ll return to my usual cappuccino. I might keep the avocados though. Or, as Mark suggested, maybe from now on I’ll have a stick of butter in lieu of a tablespoon of avocado.
Nutritional info per 1 cup (240mL)
+ FROM FAT
|SOY BLENDER||80 (30)||6g||3g||5g|
|2% DAIRY||122 (43)||12g||5g||8g|