What Is Dairy-Free Milk?

Dairy-free milk includes a variety of creamy liquids extracted from non-animal sources, namely plants. The type of plant used varies depending on the region, with the main types being nut, grain, and legume, though the beverages may not be labeled as "milk" in every location. Almond is the most common type of nut used, made by soaking, blending, and straining a simple mixture. Rice and oats are the most common grain milks, and soy is by far the most commonly used legume and overall ingredient for this type of beverage, though it typically requires heating to achieve a neutral flavor. Additional ingredients may be added to dairy-free milk to give flavor, texture, and added nutritional value.

The majority of dairy-free milk comes from plant sources. Availability and popularity depend on location, and ingredients used may include added vitamins, sweeteners, and fats, in some cases. In some countries, like Germany, these drinks are not referred to as milk, since the term is designated for dairy products only.

Nut milk is made by soaking the main ingredients in a bowl of water overnight, then blending and straining the liquid out. Like grain milk, they may be sweetened with ingredients like honey, stevia, or sugar, among other options. Almond milk is the most common type, but hazelnuts, cashews, and walnuts, as well as pecans, Brazil nuts, and a variety of seeds can also be found.

Grain milks are derived from fermented grains or flour. Common types include rice and oat, though wheat, quinoa, and spelt may also be used, among others. Compared to its dairy counterpart, grain milk has less protein and more carbohydrates, but is low in saturated fat and doesn't contain lactose. Taste varies depending on the type of grain used.

While peanuts and other legumes are used to make dairy-free milk, soy is the most common. This legume is a complete protein, containing the nine essential amino acids. It's sometimes the dairy-free milk chosen while transitioning to a vegan diet. Soy milk is made like others, by soaking the legume overnight, blending and straining the milk, however, it's typically heated to remove its strong bean flavor, unless a raw version is desired. Soy milk's thicker consistency makes it appropriate as a baking ingredient and creamer.

Dairy-free milk may contain a variety of other ingredients. Vanilla extract, chocolate, and carob powder can add flavor and a thicker texture in some cases. Spices like nutmeg or cinnamon are able to customize flavor. Vitamin and mineral powders like maca, protein, or other supplements can add to the milk's nutritional value.


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