What do soy, coconuts, nuts, rice, oats, hemp seeds, and peas have in common? They can all be found in the “dairy” section of the supermarket. These plant-based foods now serve as the base for nondairy beverages.
And with a new variety popping up almost weekly (or so it seems), the number of milk alternatives for your lattes and smoothies can be seriously overwhelming. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of nondairy milks to help you determine the right ones to add to your cart or leave on the shelf.
But First, a Quick Note About Dairy
There may be more nondairy milks than actual dairy options nowadays, but that doesn’t mean you should skip dairy milk altogether. As a matter of fact, most of these plant-based milk alternatives don’t come close to the amount of protein and other essential nutrients that are in a glass of good old-fashioned cow’s milk.
Not to mention that dairy is straight milk without any additives, while many plant-based milks contain various thickeners and sugars for palatability. Still, for those with milk allergies, who are lactose intolerant, who are vegan, or who are just plain curious, the following rundown is for you.
If a low-cal and low-carb beverage is what you seek, almond milk is for you. With just 35 calories and 1 gram of carbs per cup, it’s the perfect drink for macro and carb counters. Almond milk only has 1 gram of protein per 8-ounce serving, so don’t expect any huge muscle gains by adding it to your post-workout smoothie. Yet it’s rich in bone-building calcium, with 45 percent of your daily value in one 8-ounce serving. With a slightly nutty and sweet flavor, almond milk makes a nice addition to virtually anything, especially baked goods and smoothies.
Although many people tend to fear soy, there’s no need to avoid it. As a matter of fact, research has linked eating soy with a decreased risk of developing breast cancer. Soy milk is one of the only nondairy milks that serves up a protein punch. The nutrition specs in a glass of soy milk mimic that of dairy—8 grams of protein and 110 calories. It also has an impressive 45 percent of your daily calcium, and some brands are even fortified with much-needed Vitamin D. As for taste, soy milk is slightly sweet with a mildly chalky finish.
Try it: Silk Soymilk is the go-to soy-based beverage.
Cashews are one of the butteriest (we’re going with it) nuts, and that flavor lends itself to cashew milk. The neutral taste and creamy texture closely resemble low-fat dairy milk, making it more drinkable than some other stronger-flavored nut milks.
Because of its creamy consistency, cashew milk is a great addition to sauces and vegan recipes. Like the other nut milks on the list, cashew milk has only 1 gram of both protein and carbs, so it’s a good choice for keto dieters.
Try it: Pacific Foods Unsweetened Cashew Non-Dairy Beverage is made with organic and fair-trade cashews.
Spoiler alert: Hazelnut milk does not taste like Nutella. Now that we've got that out of the way, it does have a slightly nutty flavor. Hazelnut milk is similar to cashew milk in that it’s rich and creamy.
It’s higher in calories than the other nut milks, with 110 calories per 8-ounces, so it’s ideal for anyone who wants to gain weight (believe it or not, those people do exist). But don’t expect to put on much muscle mass with just 2 grams of protein per cup.
Try it: Elmhurst Milked Hazelnuts
If you’re an environmental advocate, pea milk is for you. Yellow peas grow in areas that receive plenty of rain, so they need little or no irrigation. The base of pea milk is usually a pea protein powder, and the milk often has some additives, like oil and sugar. It has the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, and with that protein comes a satisfying, rich taste many nut milks can’t quite nail. Pea milk is great for protein-seekers who have nut allergies.
Try it: Ripple Pea Milk
This plant-based drink comes from milled rice and water, but it contains some fillers (like various oils) for creaminess. Rice milk has one of the most neutral tastes of all the nondairy alternatives, but it also has one of the highest carb counts. That means it’s not great for those following a Paleo or keto lifestyle. It also doesn’t have a ton of nutritive value, with 120 calories, 1 gram of protein, and 2 percent daily value of calcium in 8 ounces.
Try it: Rice Dream is the go-to for rice milk.
Oat milk may win the award for “fastest-growing nondairy milk alternative.” The best part about oat milk is that it doesn’t contain any additives: It’s just oats, water, and a dash of sea salt. Better yet, oat milk is naturally sweet without any added sugar, and it’s creamy without any emulsifiers.
Oat milk isn’t ideal for those watching their carbs, but on the flip side, it provides plenty of healthy complex carbs to fuel vegan athletes. And oat milk is rich in beta-glucan, a fiber that contributes to heart health.
Try it: Oatly Organic Oat Drink is a Swedish beverage that is sweeping the US.
Made from the hempseed, hemp milk has a slightly sweet and nutty taste with a thin texture. It’s a nice substitute for skim milk, and it has a bit more protein than nut milks, with 3 grams per 8-ounce serving.
Not to mention that it’s a high-quality protein with all the essential amino acids. Hempseeds are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, and the milk provides this heart-healthy nutrient. It’s also great for baking and making treats like muffins and pancakes extra fluffy.
Coconut milk in the dairy aisle is different than the canned version. Made from grated coconut flesh, water, and some thickeners, the refrigerated coconut milk is a thinner version of the stuff you might find in Asian dishes. The taste is reminiscent of coconuts, with both sweet and sour notes. It’s great for sweet smoothies or baked goods, and it contains virtually zero carbs and protein.