Taste Test: Dairy-Free Milk Alternatives
Whether it’s because of allergies or other personal or dietary reasons, many folks choose to avoid cow’s milk. For a while, soy was the only option at many stores – not anymore! We tested 5 types of milk alternatives for taste and nutrition.
For our taste tests, we typically sample the same product from various brand names, like peanut butter or nonfat vanilla yogurt. Since the most popular cow’s milk alternatives are made from very different ingredients, we are testing the top 5 varieties: rice, hemp, almond, coconut and soy. Each beverage was ranked using our 5-point scale (5 being the highest) and judged based on taste and nutrition information. Since many of the brands offer a variety of options like low fat, vanilla flavored and unsweetened, we chose the “original” version of each brand. We found that all were best served (very) chilled.
Nutrition Info per 8 fluid-ounces: 120 calories; 2.5 grams fat; 1 gram protein
Our Take: An overall great option if you're used to skim milk. It’s surprisingly sweet even though it contains no added sweeteners. A watery consistency (just like skim milk) with some fat added from organic vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower and canola). It’s also very low in protein but fortified with calcium and vitamin D in similar amounts as cow’s milk.
Recommended Uses: Drinking plain or over cold cereal. You can also cook with it – there was a yummy-looking recipe for polenta on the box.
Nutrition Info per 8 fluid-ounces: 140 calories; 5 grams fat; 3 grams protein
Our Take: We weren’t fans of this dairy-free option. It was thick and chalky with a sour, nutty aftertaste. It was sweetened with brown rice syrup and was fortified with 50 percent of the daily recommended amounts of calcium as well as hefty doses of vitamins D and B12. It was the most expensive and among the highest in fat, though the fat came mostly from the heart-healthy polyunsaturated kind.
Nutrition Info per 8 fluid-ounces: 60 calories; 2.5 grams fat; 1 gram protein
Our Take: A much more pleasing nutty flavor than the hemp milk with an easily drinkable consistency. It does have a strong almond flavor, which is fine if you like almonds. It was sweetened with evaporated cane juice and fortified with riboflavin, and vitamins A and D, but no calcium.
Recommended Uses: Chocolate milk, over whole-grain cereal, soups, pancake batter
Nutrition Info per 8 fluid-ounces: 80 calories; 5 grams fat; 1 gram protein
Our Take: Thick (almost too thick) and creamy with a mild sweetness from added dried cane syrup. There was really no noticeable coconut flavor, but since it’s made from the fruit, most of the 5 grams of fat per serving comes from the less healthy saturated kind. Added nutrients included calcium and vitamins A, D and B12.
Recommended Uses: In coffee or tea, smoothies, or frozen into ice cream and popsicles
Nutrition Info per 8 fluid-ounces: 130 calories, 4 grams fat;, 11 grams protein
Our Take: Like all soy milk, this had a distinctive flavor and slight aftertaste. It did score some points for having far more protein than any of the others, but it did contain some added sweetener. Fortified nutrients included calcium and vitamins E, D, B-12 and beta-carotene.
Recommended Uses: Great for baking due to its high protein content – these banana muffins are proof.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »