Sweet alternatives to sour milk

Friday, 20 February, 2015

Jimmy Pierce passes his verdict on ‘sour’ dairy milk by giving a low-down on the sweet and satisfying alternatives – and how to easily make them yourself.

As the dairy industry descends deeper into crisis, an ever-increasing number of people are switching to alternatives to dairy milk for the sake of their health, animals and the environment; milk’s decline from its yesteryear heyday now appears, thankfully, to be terminal.

Dairy milk’s public relations have been superb. They had to be, to reinforce the absurd notion that we should continue being the only animal to drink the milk of another animal, with scant regard for how it is made. From a PR perspective, it was a masterclass. From making a household name out of non-League football team Accrington Stanley to the shrewd use of celebrity in marketing campaigns such as Got Milk? on both sides of the Atlantic, the marketeers’ tactics worked a treat. Yet white milk-moustached celebs could only keep up the charade for so long. Knowledge and understanding of the realities of dairy have grown rapidly, and sales are down. “Int milk brilliant!” declared a popular UK sketch show in the 1990s. Far from it, actually. 

The treatment of dairy cows and calves is arguably the most inhumane of any industry, while the negative health consequences of drinking milk are becoming increasingly clear. Fortunately, with so many non-dairy alternatives to milk available plus practical, simple recipes – see below – we can so easily avoid dairy altogether. There is something special about turning nuts and seeds into a healthy, compassionate liquid yourself. It is especially rewarding with children, setting an example for them to follow; their love of the process never ceases to amaze.

Some of you may be experienced with nut and seed milks, and already found a favourite. Others may have dabbled, perhaps with the odd soya carton, or not at all. Either way, you will no doubt have seen some plant-based milks in tetra-packs on supermarket shelves. They are generally referred to as ‘plant-based’ milks even though many are derived from nuts and seeds. The most popular types come from almonds, hemp seeds, coconuts, hazelnuts, rice, and oats, but there are others as new ones keep on appearing.

The real beauty of these milks, though, is the ease at which you can make them yourself. All you need is:

1) a blender (even the most basic usually suffices, especially when the nuts or seeds have been soaked);

2) nuts or seeds, and

3) water. 

Plus, depending upon the type of nut or seed used, you may want something to sieve out the leftover pulp. For that you have three options: a) nut milk bag (roughly £2), b) piece of muslin cloth (cheaper still), or c) clean pair of unused tights that have been rinsed in fresh water only (the cheapest option, and my preferred). All three can be used over and over again.

NOTE: If making your own plant milk remember that it is not fortified like many commercial plant milks. This means you will need to take a B12 supplement if you are not receiving the right amount of B12 from other fortified sources. Read more here.


Almond Milk

The subtly sweet, nutty flavour of almond milk is moreish, verging on addictive. It’s delicious, and beginning to replace soya milk as the primary alternative to cow’s milk in coffee, particularly in artisan coffee shops in big cities as baristas start to recognise that its taste remains good after heating. 

1) Soak almonds overnight;

2) Throw away the water (NB. Soaking aids nutrient absorption and digestion);

3) Put soaked almonds in a blender with three times the quantity of fresh, clean water;

4) Blitz on a medium and then high speed for about a minute depending on the power of your blender;

5) Pour contents through your nut milk bag/muslin cloth/pair of tights into a bowl, squeezing and draining all the milk you can out of the bag. It’s now ready to drink;

6) Some pulp will be leftover in the bag/cloth/tights. Save this. You can either: a) put it in soups or smoothies, b) mix with coconut oil to use as a skin exfoliator, c) use it in raw cakes, or d) leave it out to dry before blitzing again to contribute to making almond flour;

7) The milk will keep for quite a few days if refrigerated. Stir before drinking as it sometimes separates;

8) Try the same recipe with other nuts and seeds, many of which don’t need straining.

Jimmy’s choc-almond shake

With some minor additions, the almond milk recipe above can be transformed into something even more wondrous; an extraordinary delight, both velvety and sweet, equally ideal after your evening meal or as a breakfast treat. 

1) Make or buy (if you’re feeling lazy) almond milk;

2) Put some almond milk (no need to be precise on quantity) into a blender together with a banana, a handful of dates (ideally that have been soaked overnight, which sweetens them. Use the soaking water too), one tablespoon of raw cacao powder, and half a small ripe avocado;

3) Optional: 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla essence, and/or a pinch of cinnamon powder; 

4) Blitz in blender on medium then high speed for about 30 seconds or until everything has properly combined.

Cashew cream

If you thought sweet-tasting cream had gone forever, you were wrong. Try this. Not cheap, but exceptional poured over every dessert I can think of.

1) Soak cashews for a few hours;

2) Drain cashews and throw away the water;

3) Put cashews into a blender and blitz on low;

4) Add fresh, clean water bit by bit to reduce the thickness of the cream to your preferred consistency;

5) Optional: for those with a sweeter tooth, blend in something sweet like soaked dates, agave nectar, rice syrup, or raisins.

Summary of plant-based milks

Soya: Creamy texture and taste, typically the standard non-dairy offering in coffee shops. Full of good fats and antioxidants, it has the highest amount of protein of all plant-based milks, although some people find they are intolerant.

Almond: Excellent source of magnesium, an essential mineral which, among other functions, aids bone strength and muscles. It’s also full of manganese, selenium (great for the immune system and preventing cell and tissue damage) and Vitamin E (an antoxidant that protects cell membranes). It also contains good amounts of unsaturated fat, protein, flavonoids and potassium with less sugar than soya milk. A versatile milk, suitable in almost any context.

Rice: Naturally sweet, but more watery than most and possibly the least nutritious – though you can buy fortified rice milk. It contains the lowest amount of fat and protein. 

Hemp: Fresh flavoured, and a fantastic source of omega-3 essential fatty acids; a 250ml serving has over half of the daily recommended intake – about four times the amount in soya milk, and six times that found in cow’s milk. In addition, hemp contains vitamins A, E and folic acid, and is rich in magnesium, potassium, iron and magnesium. Far better homemade than bought, it is great on its own.

Coconut: Not to be confused with coconut water – a clear liquid – this is a rich, creamy milk. Full of fibre, vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6 and minerals including iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. Superb in smoothies.

Hazelnut: Sweeter than most, it is perfect in raw, chocolaty deserts. Yet it is the least popular of the nut milks despite containing very similar nutrients.

Oat: Mild, slightly sweet taste. It is full of fibre, more than any other plant-based milk.

By Jimmy Pierce

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