Whether you’re avoiding dairy altogether or just opened your fridge to discover you’re completely out of milk — again — there are plenty of reasons why you might want to use an alternative to cow’s milk. Luckily, most grocery stores now carry a seemingly endless number of options.
There’s almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, oat milk ... and (believe it or not) even hemp milk.
Sara Coates, of the baking blog The Sugar Hit, shares her top three picks for smart milk substitutes:
Almond milk might just be the most popular milk substitute out there right now. And it’s easy to see why: It has far fewer calories per serving than cow’s milk (even skim milk has 90 cals, whereas unsweetened almond milk has just 30). Plus, it’s lactose-, soy-, and gluten-free — which is perfect if you’ve got a milk-related sensitivity or dietary restriction.
It also has a fairly neutral flavor, adds Coates (as long as you buy the unsweetened kind), which means almond milk can behave very similarly to regular dairy milk in baking recipes. You can even use it in your morning coffee or breakfast smoothie — just note that it likely won’t have the full, creamy texture that whole milk or even 2% will have. Almond milk is generally thinner and lighter.
If you’re all about convenience, stocking up on coconut milk might be your best bet. While it’s available fresh, it also comes in a variety of packaging options from—can to carton—that have a generous shelf-life so you can keep it in the cupboard and not worry too much about its expiration.
Unlike almond milk, coconut milk has a pretty strong flavor, which can be an acquired taste. But for those who love it, coconut milk can add a rich and satisfying touch to almost any recipe, and according to Coats, it makes some delicious vegan ice cream.
Ask most people if they have oat milk in their fridge and chances are they’ll say no. But if you’re in a pinch and out of milk, you probably already have the ingredients for oat milk hiding in your kitchen. And making it is pretty simple. Start by soaking steel cut oats (or whole groats) in water for about 20 minutes, blend well, and strain through a nut bag or very fine mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth until you’ve got yourself a warm, creamy, delicious liquid perfect for using in baked goods, puddings, your morning coffee, you name it.
Coates actually ranks oat milk as her personal favorite when it comes to cow milk alternatives because she loves the “natural, subtly sweet flavor” that it offers. And, just like almond milk, it tends to behave very similarly to regular milk in baking, but with one big perk: It has way less fat.