Magazine article Sunset

A New Dairy Tale: How to Choose and Use Nondairy Alternatives

Magazine article Sunset

A New Dairy Tale: How to Choose and Use Nondairy Alternatives

Article excerpt

Got milk? Even before the pervasive campaign by the California Milk Processor Board, most households would have answered "yes." But now, if the board pressed for details, it might be surprised at the kind of milk many of us are drinking.

Milk alternatives - nondairy milks made from soybeans, rice, oats, or almonds - are proliferating, particularly soybean and rice varieties. Many kinds are available for those who are allergic to milk, lactose intolerant, or on a strict vegetarian diet. Some brands even include many choices: enriched and unenriched, nonfat, and low-fat. In some well-stocked health food stores, entire aisles are devoted to nondairy milks. And at supermarkets, they are well represented in sections with canned and dried milk products or health foods.

How do they taste?

Nondairy milks have a wide range of flavors, so you may have to sample several to find a product you like. The milk's basic ingredient is often readily identifiable - more in some, less in others - depending on the manufacturer's process and what the milk is made from: Soy milks range from bland and mild to distinctly soylike and grassy. Rice and oat milks usually have a faint, natural sweetness with subtle overtones of the source grain. Almond milks have a delicate nutty character. Compare your own reactions with those of our panel on page 189.

How can I use them?

We tested the milks to learn if they curdle when boiled (they don't) or thicken when cooked with cornstarch (they do, but rice milks thicken a bit less than the others). We tried nondairy milks as beverages, in coffee, on cereal, in soups, in puddings, and for baking. Here's what we found.

For drinking. Although milk drinkers might spurn a tall, cold glass of a nondairy alternative - even with warm chocolate chip cookies - most of our tasters found one or more of the nondairy milks acceptable in fruit smoothies, especially those in the almond-, oat-, and rice-based group. We give recipes for two smoothies we particularly liked on page 188.

In coffee. Nondairy milks with a fat content equal to that of whole milk or reduced-fat milk are creamy enough to look appetizing in coffee. For flavor, mild soy, almond, and rice milks are the most acceptable, especially if the coffee is strong. Stronger-tasting soy milks emphasize coffee's inherent bitterness and add an unpleasant chalky, grassy flavor.

On cereal. Some nondairy milks are acceptable on cold and hot cereals - rice-, oat-, and almond-based milks in particular. Rice and oat milks pair especially well with cereals made from the same grain; likewise, almond milks set off cereals that contain almonds. Although a few of the mild-tasting soy milks are okay on cereal, most have a grassy flavor that is too strong for them to pair well.

In soups. Nondairy milks, including strong-tasting soy milks, make very acceptable soups. Try the cream of mushroom soup on page 188.

In puddings. Because chocolate masks any strong flavors in these milks, all make an excellent homemade chocolate pudding (see recipe on page 186).

Unfortunately, results are inconsistent with instant chocolate pudding mixes. Most do not thicken when made with a nondairy alternative. Quick-cooking tapioca pudding isn't a good option, either; if there are strong flavors in the milk, they predominate, and the pudding doesn't always set.

For baking. In pancakes and in the hot milk cake on page 186, there were no significant differences in flavor or texture between those made with cow's milk and those that used a nondairy alternative.

How long do they last?

Most nondairy milks are sold in vacuum-sealed cartons and are shelf-stable for as long as a year. Once opened, they must be refrigerated, and stay fresh-tasting only as long as cow's milk does, about five days. Although most nondairy milks are sold in quarts, you'll find an occasional pint, as well as packs of three or more individual-size cartons, including chocolate-flavor milk. …

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