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The milky way

The milky way

Once upon a time, not very long ago, the only choice customers would be offered in terms of milk was skimmed, semi or full fat. Now cow’s milk is being side-stepped by a growing number of health-conscious consumers who are shunning the traditional white stuff for plant-based options. 

People opt for dairy-free alternatives to cow’s milk for many reasons, including lactose intolerance (an estimated 65% of the world population is lactose intolerant), allergies, veganism or for ethical reasons and plant-based milk sales in the UK have grown by 30% since 2015.

Foodservice businesses have naturally embraced this and ordering a cup of tea or coffee can now involve a range of complex choices. Each type of milk, or dairy alternative, has its own benefits and drawbacks, so we’ve pulled together the main facts and considerations to help you best advise your customers. 

Plant-based milks are made by grinding a bean or nut, then adding water, flavours, vitamins and minerals. 

Overcoming the first curdle

When it comes to using non-dairy milk, the first challenge is plant-based milk’s tendency to curdle when added to hot drinks. The high acidity content of tea and coffee, as well as the hot temperature, means that milk such as soy, oat and almond can curdle when stirred in. 

Techniques such as heating plant milk before adding it can help reduce the likelihood of curdling, but the right choice of milk is also important. 

‘Barista’ versions of plant-based milks can resist curdling and have been formulated to create the perfect foaming texture.

Almond milk

Low calorie, very low carb and low fat. 

Cashew milk

The lowest calorie option, low fat, very low carb, typically fortified with calcium and, often, vitamins A and D. It’s creamy and has a slightly less nutty taste than other nut milks.

Oat milk

High in calories, fibre and carbs and fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D, as well as B12, a nutrient found almost exclusively in animal products, so vegans prefer oat milk for this reason. Creamy and smooth, it doesn’t split in tea. 

Coconut milk

Very low carb and low in protein. Perfect if you want to add a sweet, floral, ‘tropical’ flavour to your drink.

Soy milk

The highest in protein of all options but slightly higher in calories too. Smooth and creamy with a neutral taste.

Hemp milk

Very low carb, a source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp has an acquired taste and a creamy texture that tends to be thicker than other milk alternatives. A good choice for people who are avoiding nuts and soy. It has a slightly vegetal flavour. 

Rice milk

Low fat and low in protein, but high in calories and the highest carb count of all milk types, which might put some customers off. It’s the least allergenic of all non-dairy milks, making it the safest choice among those who are sensitive to other ingredients. It has a mild taste with naturally sweet undertones and a slightly watery consistency.  

Pea milk 

High in protein and potassium, but without the green colour! A neutral flavour and similar to dairy milk.

Milk choice is obviously subjective, but here are some general recommendations:

Best with coffee

The sharper taste of coffee can be complemented with a stronger, sweeter tasting milk like coconut. Oat milk is particularly favoured by coffee drinkers for its creamy flavour and velvety texture.

Best with tea:

The delicate fragrant taste of tea works better with thinner milks that are less powerful on the palette, such as hemp, rice or soya milk. Almond milk is good for sweetened tea. 

Best for hot chocolate:

Almond milk, coconut and rice milk

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