In this article:
- Whether you’re going vegan or you’re lactose intolerant, navigating the growing list of nondairy milk options can be dizzying.
- Some nondairy milk alternatives have a distinct flavor that can be hard to mask, ruining the illusion that you’re using regular milk (but pairing well with certain foods or recipes).
- Others are a little more neutral and a little closer to the actual experience of regular cow-sourced dairy.
- But buying all the different kinds to do your own taste test can get expensive so I’ve done the hard work of ranking all your nondairy milk alternatives for you.
Cows are responsible for 62% of the carbon emissions created by the food industry. But that’s not entirely fair to say. Humans carry most of the responsibility for cows’ carbon footprint, seeing as we’ve been breeding them out of control and creating this problem for generations.
Aside from the issue of carbon emissions (in fact, dairy milk creates at least three times more carbon emissions than any nondairy milk alternative), dairy milk production also uses nine times more land to be produced than any nondairy variety of milk.
The fact that the production and consumption of dairy milk are destroying our planet (that place where, you know, we all live) should be convincing enough to stop pumping udders.
But if you’ve never tried any nondairy milk alternatives, you might be surprised at how delicious some of them are.
I even prefer certain nondairy milk alternatives to cow milk any day of the week. Plus, no one had to put a cow through the mechanized milking process to get my nondairy milk. How would you like it if someone milked you with a machine? Don’t answer that.
To help you take the plunge, I’m going to compare nondairy milk alternatives based on flavor, environmental impact, and the respective ways that I believe each one should be used. It’s time to go absolutely nuts! Get it? Because of nut milk…
6 Most Popular Nondairy Milk Alternatives
Technically, a coconut is a one-seeded drupe, meaning it could be considered a fruit, a nut, and a seed. And that means that coconut milk could be a type of nut milk, but it could also be fruit milk or seed milk. Either way, no cows are involved.
Coconut milk is undoubtedly one of my favorite nondairy milk substitutes primarily because of the flavor. It’s great.
Want to feel like someone just served you coffee on a Hawaiian beach, throw some coconut milk in your cup. Want to taste the tropics from your living room in Montana? Pour yourself a glass of coconut milk and have your own little luau.
On top of the benefit of their delicious fruits, coconut trees are also beneficial to the environment due to the fact that they sequester carbon dioxide. So, while dairy milk is adding to the carbon emissions problem, coconut milk is actually reducing it.
Plus, coconuts are harvested by hand rather than with a machine.
With that said, there is the problem of monocropping coconuts to consider. Monocropping results in the destruction of mangrove forests and other environments. Plus, coconut farmers in the Philippines, India, and Indonesia are often exploited and given unfair pay.
Make sure your coconut is FairTrade.
Honestly, I’d take almond milk over dairy milk, but I’d take most other nondairy milk alternatives over almond milk. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but the flavor just doesn’t speak to me. I think it’s kind of bland, but that’s just me.
Even if you love the taste of almond milk, I’m going to give you a reason to go with one of the other nondairy milk alternatives instead.
Although almond milk production has an 80% smaller carbon footprint than dairy milk, the massive amount of pesticides and water used in almond milk production present a real problem.
Every almond takes about four gallons of water to produce, and that has contributed to the drought problem in the dry state of California, where more than 80% of almonds in the world are grown.
Plus, those pesticides have had a negative impact on honeybee populations. Almond milk and honey in a bowl of cereal may taste great, but those two food items are kind of on opposing teams.
Soy milk is probably the most traditional of the nondairy milk alternatives out there. While soy milk once reigned as the king of vegan cereal bowls, it’s been edged out of first place by the new kids on the block: almond milk and oat milk.
Still, I’d say that the flavor of soy milk is pretty solid. Is it the best-tasting nondairy milk out there? Not a chance. Are you going to spit it out? Not unless you have a soy allergy.
On top of being the poster child for nondairy milk alternatives, soy milk is actually really good for the environment compared to dairy milk production.
Soy production emits less than a third of the carbon released by cows, uses relatively few pesticides and little water, and isn’t very land-intensive. The only real environmental concern is the deforestation of land to clear room for soy fields, particularly in the Amazon.
Oat milk is the bomb. I don’t care what anyone says. It’s delicious, healthy, and great for the environment.
Coffee and a splash of oat milk is just a match made in heaven. It goes great in cereal, it’s good for baking, and it gives a really interesting flavor to scrambled eggs (perhaps Gordon Ramsey would disagree, but who cares?)
Oat milk production is also by far the most sustainable when compared to the production of any other kind of milk. So, if your primary concern is your environmental impact, then oat milk is the way to go.
Growing oats uses a very small amount of water and land. However, similar to soy milk production, there is a problem with clearing forests to build oat plantations.
But, buy oat milk made in the United States or Canada and you can enjoy a glass guilt-free.
Yes, making milk out of grains of rice is possible thanks to modern technology. And rice milk tastes nice, even if it takes a little bit of getting used to.
If you’re planning on making risotto, rice milk is probably the best vegan replacement for cream out there.
Though rice milk is far better for the environment than mammal-based milk, the environmental impacts of rice production have often been underestimated.
Similar to almond milk production, rice production uses a shit-ton of water (so much water, in fact, that 50% of all diverted freshwater in Asia goes to rice fields). Bacteria in rice fields also emit massive amounts of nitrous oxide and methane, which are both major greenhouse gases.
Hemp milk is a relatively new to the list of nondairy milk alternatives, but it’s making a name for itself as people are starting to recognize all of the health benefits of eating hemp.
No, hemp milk will not get you high. However, maybe someone will start selling THC-infused hemp milk in the future, in which case it would get you high, if that’s what you’re into.
In terms of the environmental impact, hemp is known to absorb amazing amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, negating the climate effects of carbon emissions from other industries. Hemp is also a weed, which means that it can grow without the use of pesticides in most cases.
On top of that, all of the byproducts of hemp milk are biodegradable. A lot of hemp can also be grown in a very small area of land, which reduces the need to deforest or employ monoculture practices to produce commercial quantities of hemp.