We toast the end of National Dairy Month — with soy milk.
And almond milk. And hemp, coconut, cashew, quinoa, rice, oat and other plant-based milks.
The explosion in commercial plant-based milks corresponds to the rise in lactose intolerance, over 65 percent of us, according to the National Institute of Health. Or maybe you’re avoiding dairy’s cholesterol, fat and hormones. Or maybe you want to give cows a break. All these reasons add up to $2 billion in nondairy milk sales last year. One in three households keeps a plant-based milk of some kind in the fridge.
But what kind? Start with what works for you.
Dairy is among the eight major food allergens, but so is soy and and so are tree nuts. Most allergic folks can tolerate coconut milk, and paleo people love it, too. Gluten-sensitive? Gluten-free grain milks like oat, quinoa and rice should suit you, but verify they’re made in a facility without cross-contamination risk. Read the label.
While you’re reading, look for:
▪ Non-GMO verified or certified organic. More and more companies including Pacific, Eden Foods and White Wave (maker of Silk and So Delicious) are producing organic plant-based milk. It matters especially with soy milk. Up to 98 percent of soy grown in America is genetically modified and has been found to be high in herbicide residue.
▪ Added sugar. Sugar occurs naturally in dairy milk — it’s called lactose, it’s what many people are allergic to and there are about 14 grams of it per cup. Some plant-based milks add sugar to improve flavor. It’s the second ingredient in Silk vanilla cashew milk (64 ounces, $3.50).
▪ Carrageenan. The hysteria-inducing ingredient du jour, carrageenan, a seaweed derivative, has been used to give plant-based milks some thickness and body. Some believes it causes gut issues. Most companies are replacing it with gellan gum, another plant-based thickener.
Each plant-based milk has its own flavor and consistency. As a rule, nut and seed milks — like almond, coconut, hemp and hazelnut — have a luscious creaminess in the mouth due to their natural fat content. They’re best when flavor counts — in your coffee, with your cereal.
Grain-based milks are thinner and milder, but their flavor neutrality make them a worthy dairy substitute in baking.
Whichever one you choose, they’re all cowless and cruelty-free.
Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.” On Twitter: @edgyveggie1.
Dairy-Free Vanilla Pudding
Quick to make, silky and sweet, this pudding is full of old-fashioned flavor but made with new-fangled plant-based milk. Versions made with almond and soy milk earned thumbs-up from tasters. Hemp milk, not so much. Coconut fans may want to make this pudding with coconut milk and replace the vegan butter with 1 tablespoon coconut oil. In all cases, it has dairy milk creaminess without the cow. Using evaporated cane sugar rather than processed white sugar gives the pudding a caramel color, like a latte.
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup evaporated cane sugar (see note)
2 cups unsweetened vanilla nondairy milk such as coconut, almond or soy
1 tablespoon vegan butter, such as Earth Balance (see note)
1 pinch sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Sift cornstarch into a medium saucepan. Pour in evaporated cane sugar and whisk until incorporated.
Heat the pan over medium-high heat and slowly pour in the nondairy milk. Whisk together until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking over medium-high heat for another 10 to 12 minutes or until pudding thickens and takes on a gloss. Keep whisking to avoid cornstarch clumps.
When pudding has thickened enough to coat the whisk or spoon, add the vegan butter, sea salt and vanilla. Stir until the butter has melted into the pudding and is combined.
Remove from heat. Cool slightly then pour into ramekins or pudding cups. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before serving. Pudding will continue to thicken as it chills. Makes 4 servings.
Note: Evaporated cane sugar is a coarse sugar refined without animal products. Available in the baking section at Whole Foods and most supermarkets. Vegan butter is also called non-dairy margarine; it’s dairy-free but often displayed next to butter in the refrigerated dairy case.
Source: Ellen Kanner.