As a vegan RD-in-training, I don't advocate nondairy alternatives to milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc. While they are appropriate in moderation when transitioning from animal foods to a plant-based diet, I find that they contain too many food additives (and cost too much)! For example, carageenan is found in most nondairy milk alternatives. It is used as thickening and stabilizing agent - think vegan gelatin alternative. Although carageenan is a natural seaweed extract, it has raised some recent health concerns. It has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease and tumor promotion. If you simply can't give up some of your favorite products, don't despair! Head to The Cornucopia Institute for a shopping guide of carageenen-free foods.
If you would like to ditch the boxed nondairy milks altogether, homemade "milks" can be fast, easy, and cheap. Most recipes for nondairy milks will require you to blend the ingredients, then strain using a nut milk bag, cheesecloth, or even a new pair of pantyhose. This process takes longer, and you end up losing the "pulp" (which contains fiber and additional nutrients). If you're creative you can use the pulp in other recipes (like cookies, crackers, etc). This method also yields a super smooth milk (for those of you who like to drink a nice cold glass of milk on its own).
If you generally use your nondairy milk in cereal, baking, etc., and don't mind a bit of texture, then my method is for you! Here's the very general recipe:
- 1/4 cup nuts/seeds (ideally soaked for a few hours beforehand - this softens them and makes them more digestible)
- 1 cup water
- 1 date (soaked to soften) OR sweetener to taste (pure maple syrup, raw honey, agave, stevia)
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- optional additions: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cocoa powder, carob powder
I've experimented with many different milks...almond, brazil nut, sesame, hemp. Last night I was inspired by this recipe and tried flax milk. I ground the whole flax seeds first using my blender with the grinder blade attached to get them as fine as possible. Then I added the liquid and other ingredients. Besides being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, flax is a great source of soluble fiber. Like oats and chia seeds, the soluble fiber in flax allows it to form a gel when placed in water. I liked the thick and creamy quality that the soluble fiber gave to my flax milk. I also added a tablespoon of cocoa powder to make it chocolate flax milk!
If you're really in a pinch or don't have nuts/seeds on hand, you can make "cheater's" nut milk: just blend about 2 tbs. nut butter with 1 cup water and sweetener/flavorings of choice. I do this with almond butter to make milk for baking recipes or cereal.