The big trend in the food industry has been plant-based for a few years now. Vegan alternatives to weekly staples is taking over the supermarket aisles – starting with dairy alternatives and the different plant-based milk options.
In the not-so-long-ago past, if you were looking for milk in your local store, your options were between fat-free, 2% fat, or full-fat. And they were mostly cow’s milk. If you were lactose-intolerant or had an allergy to milk or were vegan, you didn’t really have many options. With luck, you’d find soy milk. But that’s about it.
Present day, the amount of options and variety is borderline OVERWHELMING! You have soy, almond, coconut, cashew, oats, walnut, pistachio, flax, rice, hazelnut. Then they can come in original flavor, with vanilla, chocolate, sweetened, unsweetened. There are also SO many brands! Some a tad bit more expensive than others. I don’t know about you, but having too many alternatives is the perfect recipe for disaster when it comes to making up my mind. I feel flustered and have a hard time committing to anything.
Because I wanted to understand the different options available to me, I couldn’t help but observe one thing. There’s a lot of fluff. Beautiful packaging and amazing claims that make you feel good and like you are saving the planet with each purchase. But once you put on your nutritionist glasses, you realize that the story is quite different…
If you take a few minutes to read the list of ingredients in most of the commercial plant-based milk options, you will find a list worthy of an elaborate magic potion. Here’s an example from the Silk original almond milk (taken from their website):
Filtered Water, Almonds, Cane Sugar, Vitamin and Mineral Blend (Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin E Acetate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2), Sea Salt, Gellan Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Locust Bean Gum, Ascorbic Acid (to protect freshness), Natural Flavor.
Is it the worst thing in the world. No. But this is a food staple that most use on a daily basis. And what you are getting is mainly water with preservatives, flavoring, thickeners, predetermined amounts of sugar (in this case), a blend of vitamins that are not all even in their most absorbable form and a tiny bit of the actual nut/seed/grain.
To be fair here, I did find a brand that uses only water + nut/seed/grain. But that option is quite expensive and comes in half the size of its competitors. Unless you have the financial means to invest there every week, it’s just not very realistic.
So what about making your own plant-based milk? Is it better? Is it worth it?
My DIY Lessons
Making your own everything will always be the best alternative – and that’s also true for plant-based milk. But like most things in life, it requires a tricky learning curve. Because it’s not just about tossing some nuts with water into a blender.
In the last few years, I’ve experimented with different plant-based milk recipes. The goal was to find an option that I loved and that it was also an enjoyable part of my routine. Something that flowed. I did my research on the process and the different options and I was ready!
Making plant-based milk is usually pretty straight forward:
- Soak (typically overnight, not always though)
- Blend with filtered water
- Strain using cheese cloth or nut milk bag
So here are some of my lessons/mistakes that I picked up throughout the years and how I feel about each one…
Cashew milk (my favorite go-to)
Nuts in general should be soaked overnight when you’re going to use them to make milk. It’s important to do this so it blends better. Soaking also helps our bodies better digest and absorb nutrients. With cashews though, if you want to speed things up you can soak in hot water for 30 minutes instead of overnight. Great, right?
You also don’t technically HAVE to strain cashew milk. Which if you ask anyone that makes their own plant-based milk, this is probably the most annoying part. It can get quite messy and feels kind of wasteful if you don’t have a plan for the leftover pulp.
Not having to strain cashew milk felt like a BIG win making cashew milk my main go-to option. The flaw with not straining though is that it’s definitely not a smooth milk. You WILL feel the little fine grainy bits. Maybe it’s just me being a bit picky, but the texture was kind of a deal breaker eventually. I knew so because it got to the point that I preferred to just go store-bought.
Here’s the thing, I don’t mind putting in some work when it comes to the kitchen. But I have to LOVE the outcome + the process has to be enjoyable or I just won’t stick to it. And that’s what happened here.
Pros: Doesn’t require overnight soaking or straining l Cons: Cashews can be pricy and I didn’t love the texture when not strained.
Coconut milk (delicious coconutty flavor)
I’m a coconut lover, so this one was always quite tasty! Unlike nuts, you don’t have to soak overnight and it can be done on the spot. The difference though is that you have to blend the coconut shreds with hot water and then strain.
You already know I don’t love the messiness of the cheese cloth method. The other thing, with coconut milk, if you don’t wait a bit before straining, it is a little too hot to handle. When I am in the kitchen actively cooking, I don’t like to have to stop and wait (twirling my thumbs) until I can do the next step. Because I’ll go do something else and get sidetracked. So I didn’t stick to this one either.
Pros: Delicious flavor and cheaper than using nuts l Cons: Can get a little hot, needs to strain, and there’s leftover pulp.
Oat milk (quick + cheap)
I love the idea of oat milk so much because it’s cheap to buy and you can do SO many things with oats. It’s also a more sustainable option when you compare it to almonds. Making oat milk is simple in the sense that you don’t have to soak the oats. It’s just blending it with room temp water and then straining. But what makes oats great for a creamy oatmeal, is exactly what makes it tricky to make your own oat milk.
If you want to avoid ending up with a “slimy” milk, avoid soaking or blending it for too long. Also, a DIY oat milk is not the best alternative if you want to have it hot, since this will also result in a slimy texture. And let’s not forget that you need to have a plan for the leftover pulp. Although I LOVE the idea of oat milk, I have more than once ended up with slimy milk and I personally often use milk to add into my hot morning coffee.
Pros: Most inexpensive option and doesn’t require soaking l Cons: Messy to strain, can become a bit slimy, shouldn’t be heated up, and there’s leftover pulp.
I’m not going to dive into almond milk because that’s the one that I least experimented with. The reason being mainly that I’d often forget to soak overnight or I just didn’t really know what to do with the leftover pulp. More than once I’ve ended up with little containers of almond pulp that went bad in the fridge. I’d save it for later and then later became too late.
NOTE: since the pulp has the moisture from blending with water, you only have a couple of days or so to use it before it starts to spoil.
Team DIY or Store-Bought?
If I am being 100% honest here, I really struggled sticking to making my own plant-based milk every week. I wanted to be one of those people that seem to have their life perfectly together. You know, the ones that eat from their garden and make everything from scratch. It’s hard to not be hard on oneself because there’s always somewhere where we can be doing better and more. It’s hard to not compare. Do you know the feeling?
I wanted to share this with you because not everything is for everyone. I could share recipes and pretend that that’s what I do on my day-to-day – creating that beautifully curated Instagram life. But that wouldn’t be fair to you. When we see people’s “perfect” lives, it’s easy to feel less than and that we have to play catch-up. Which is why I want to always be fully transparent with you. To show you that I too am figuring things out. Till this day.
Making my own plant-based milk every week ended up not working out because it didn’t flow for me. I always want to be able to enjoy my process. And the cheese cloth wasn’t doing it. So I eventually went back to store-bought. Until recently. My sister gifted me with a nut milk maker (Almond Cow). It’s like a juicer but to make plant-based milk and it solves all of my little straining problem.
Nut milk makers are a bit on the pricey side and if she hadn’t gifted it to me, I am not sure I would’ve gotten it on my own. But I do have to say that now I am in love with making all types of plant-based milk recipes. And it came with a bunch of amazing ideas on how to use the leftover pulp!
You Don’t HAVE To Go DIY If It’s Not Working
If you are like me and the straining method didn’t work for you, that’s OK! Is it better to make your own? The DIY route will always be best because you control your ingredients. But if you are suffering through the process, then find a different way. Guilt + shame free.
It’s not always that we can make everything from scratch. Going store-bought, many times IS the better alternative for one. Until we can figure things out – or not. Maybe we’ll never fully figure it out and that’s OK too. So I want to leave you with a little guide on what to check when making any food purchases – to empower you to confidently make the BEST decision for you:
- List of ingredients – How many ingredients are there? What are they? Are the ingredients actual food or does it sound like a science experiment? Is there an option with better ingredients?
- Sugar – Is it sweetened? With what? (NOTE: Sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners are a sign of lower quality ingredients and not the best option). Is there an unsweetened version?
- Packaging – What does it come in? Is there an option that is more sustainable?
- Price – Is there an option that is good AND more inexpensive/on sale? In food, you often get what you pay for, but sometimes there are good deals.
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