Oh, silky, frothy, milk. It's delicious. In cheese, coffee, or next to a plate of cookies, milk is a beautiful thing. Sadly, however, it's not the easiest thing in the world to digest. It might be hard to believe since milk is ubiquitous in the US, but most adults can't naturally break down the structural complexity of lactose or milk sugar. But what then can we eat with our cookies, if not milk?
That's where milk alternatives come in. Lactose-free "milks" are available in nearly all grocery stores and each has its own unique flavor, consistency, and nutritional content. It's confusing, but we got you covered. From soy milk to coconut milk and everything in between, here's how and when to make the swap.
Easily the most popular of the cow's milk alternatives, plain soy milk is very versatile, is about as rich as whole milk, and has a comparable amount of protein (so it's very vegetarian friendly and great for cooking). Generally, soy milk is a good source of protein, calcium, vitamin D (great for those of us that don't see sunlight often enough), and vitamin B12, which is needed for carbohydrate conversion and healthy looking skin and nails. It has approximately the same number of calories per serving as cow's milk but a little more sugar if you get a flavored variety.
Uses: You can use soy in smoothies and sweets or you could simply substitute milk in any recipe for an equal amount of plain soy milk. For a healthy spin to your menu, we suggest using soy milk in Sweet and Spicy Fiesta Biscuits or in this Creamy Tomato Soup. Soy milk is also a good substitute for buttermilk: simply add one tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of soy milk for a buttermilk flavor without the fat. Don't believe us? Try out this trick in a bowl of Light Avocado Soup.
Made with pressed rice or rice flour, this milk alternative is subtly sweet (though a little watery), nut free, soy free, and very low in cholesterol and saturated fat. And since it doesn't naturally have much in the way of protein or vitamins, each brand fortifies their rice milk with a unique blend of extra nutrients. So spend some time reading labels and pick out a milk that suits your needs. Remember, though, since it's made of rice, it does have more carbs than cow's milk. Translation: it isn't exactly Atkins-friendly.
Use: Best suited for sweeter recipes like this Avocado and Rice Milk Ice Cream or refreshing drinks like the traditional Latin American agua de horchata. Because it isn't as thick as regular milk, using it as a replacement when cooking is a little tricky. If a thicker consistency is needed, try making a roux with a flour that best fits your dietary needs.
First of all, let's clear this up: this is not crema de coco (what you use in piña coladas), nor is it coconut water (the clear, mild tasting liquid extracted directly from coconuts). Coconut milk is made from grated coconut meat and ranges in consistency, but overall it is naturally sweet and very rich in flavor...and calories...and fat. It's a great source of manganese, and good source of fiber, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. However, it is very high in saturated fat.
Uses: Great for cooking, especially to thicken and enrichen stews and sauces. Unlike rice milk, coconut milk can easily substitute cow's milk when baking, but adjust sugar to factor in the richness of the coconut milk. For a traditional recipe, try a Coconut Rum Tres Leches Cake or impress your friends with Seared Scallops with Coconut Jasmine Rice!
Almond milk is naturally nutrient rich with a pleasant nutty flavor. It's low in cholesterol and saturated fat and high in vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and calcium. It also has the consistency and sugar content of cow's milk.
Use: Original unsweetened almond milk can be used in both sweet and savory dishes when replacing milk in equal proportion. Try swapping the quart of cow's milk in this Chocolate Flan with Marcona Salted Almonds for a quart of almond milk for a decadent dessert with an extra nutty flavor. Or if you're feeling adventurous, make Jose Garces' savory Artichoke and Mushroom Huaraches with truffled Manchego Bechamel Sauce. Just a note: be careful when making substitutions with flavored almond milk since it usually has added sugar (which means you'll have to adjust the recipe).