Choices, choices, choices…

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We all know that ethics often go out the window when money is tight but the switch from non-organic to organic milk is unlikely to cost more than an £1 extra a week. Organic milk sales have actually held up well in the recession, with continued growth in 2008 and 2009. However, the category is facing increasing competition from non-dairy alternatives. In fact, rice, nut, grain and seed-based milk substitutes have increased threefold over 2008 to 2009 offering further alternatives to vegans and customers with lactose intolerance. Buying organic milk is a strong message to the dairy industry, but so is buying dairy alternatives. It is a good idea to experiment with different vegan products and alternate between organic dairy and non-dairy milks.

If you have always been a little wary of dairy alternatives then now is the time to take a risk. Non-dairy beverages are getting better all the time. Some even have the creamy texture of milk, whereas other do not claim to have any similarity with cow’s milk apart from being delicious in tea and with corn flakes.

Here is a simple guide to alternatives to cows’ milk:

Soya

Soya dairy alternatives are wonderfully adaptable and can often imitate the taste and texture of dairy almost entirely. It is produced by soaking dry soybeans and grinding them with water. Soya milk contains about the same proportion of protein as cow’s milk; around 3.5 per cent but with much less saturated fat. It is also a good source of lecithin and Vitamin E. There is some controversy about the ethics of depending too heavily on soya as large areas of Amazonian rainforest are being destroyed in order to grow vast amounts of soybeans. However, I would argue that most dairy alternative companies, such as Alpro, reject this brutal and invasive kind of farming. Soya is in fact often used as animal feed or to bulk out other food products because it is easy to grow, cheap and plentiful. Next time you go shopping, check how many items you buy list soya in their ingredients, you might be surprised!

Rice

Rice milk is a particularly delicious beverage and enjoyable to drink by the glassful straight from the fridge. It is made by pressing the rice through a mill stream using diffusion to strain out the pressed grains. It is sometimes also made at home using rice flour and brown rice protein, or by boiling brown rice with a large volume of water, blending and straining the mixture. Nutritionally speaking, it contains more carbohydrate but not protein or calcium as cow’s milk does but commercial brands are often fortified with calcium, Vitamin E, Vitamin B12 and iron.

Oat

Oat milk is made from oat groats (hulled grain broken into fragments), filtered water, and potentially other grains and beans, such as triticale, barley, brown rice, and soybeans. Oat milk is light in texture and has a very mild flavor with just a hint of sweetness. It substitutes very well for low-fat or fat-free milk. You can make your own very easily by grinding oats in a good coffee grinder and simply blending with water!

Hemp

Though its name might be a bit misleading, organic hemp milk is a perfectly legal, not to mention healthy, alternative for vegetarians or non vegetarians. It is made by blending the shelled seeds of the hemp plant with water.

Hemp Seeds

One concern that people have about organic hemp milk is that it might contain some of the chemical THC, which is found in marijuana. Rest assured that this ingredient is not present or associated with hemp milk.

Hemp milk is probably the most nutritious alternative to dairy. One 8-Ounce glass contains the following healthy nutrients:
  • 900mg Omega-3 Fatty Acid
  • 2800mg Omega-6 Fatty Acid
  • All 10 Essential Amino Acids
  • 4 grams of Digestible Protein
  • 46% of RDA of Calcium
  • 0% Cholesterol
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorous
  • Riboflavin
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B12
  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Zinc

Milk alternatives can also be made using barley, quinoa, almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts, peas and more. These rarely make it into the shops, but can often be made at home relatively simply. Recipes are on the internet. These milks can nearly always replace dairy milk in cooking both savoury and sweet dishes. Though none can replicate the creamy taste of milk, each is refreshing and delicious in its own incomparable way. Do your own taste tests and discover what you could be missing!

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