When it comes to selecting the “best” alternative to dairy milk, it somewhat depends on your intended use for the milk. Different milk alternatives work well for different purposes, as I mention below. Some of these alternatives are thin, some are thicker, some have nutty or earthy flavors, while others are sweeter and lighter tasting. Unfortunately, I neglected to take note of the cost of each of these, though I recall them all being around $4 per 64-oz container.
One important nutritional detail is that, for someone who is avoiding dairy for one reason or another, it can be much more difficult to get in daily recommendations of calcium and vitamin D, since those are found in the highest concentrations in dairy milk (naturally and fortified, respectively). Each of the milk alternatives I tried has been fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A.
The second thing to watch for when selecting a dairy alternative are added sugars. These alternative milks frequently come flavored (vanilla or chocolate) and even the “original” versions are often sweetened. I tried to go with unsweetened options whenever I could to avoid added sugar.
- Trader Joe’s Rice Drink
For drinking, this was my favorite. Even unsweetened (10 g sugar per serving), it has a semi-sweet flavor and does have a mild rice taste (which I loved!). This “milk” is more watery and less thick than others like soy or cashew. I suspect that it would not work well in cream-like sauces or soups as it is probably too thin. Nutritionally, I don’t really have any complaints. It is made from milled brown rice, but don’t go looking for the fiber benefits of brown rice here — it’s just for the flavor.
In a nutshell: Tasty for drinking, nutritionally sound (watch for added sugars in other brands though). Probably too watery for recipes needing a creamier option.
2. Pacific Hemp Non-Dairy Beverage
This was my second favorite milk alternative for drinking, but that is likely because I forgot to specify to my husband to pick up unsweetened hemp milk. This particular product is sweetened with brown rice syrup, bringing the total grams of sugar content to 14 per serving, which is slightly higher than the amount of natural sugar found in dairy milk (12 grams). It has significantly less protein than dairy milk. The flavor of hemp milk reminded me a lot of cream of wheat, believe it or not, and not in a bad way. This milk is about the consistency of fat-free dairy milk and would probably work fine in any recipe using regular milk.
In a nutshell: A unique, earthy, cream-of-wheat type flavor and a pretty typical dairy-like texture. Watch out for the amount of added sugars.
3. Silk Unsweetened Cashew Milk
The taste of this milk was ehhhhhh….okay. Nothing to write home about, but tolerable. It was definitely thicker than regular dairy milk is and it worked delightfully in this alfredo sauce recipe. It had a very slight flavor of cashew and was just a tad more bitter than regular milk. This would probably be my go-to dairy alternative for cream-based recipes.
Notably, this cashew milk is only 25 calories per serving and no grams of sugar, even natural sugar (since cashews don’t contain carbohydrates). If you’re carb-counting or looking at losing weight, that could be a nice option.
In a nutshell: Great for recipes and tolerable, though not enjoyable for drinking. Very low in calories and contains no sugar.
4. Silk Unsweetened Soy Milk
Welp. I don’t have much good to say here. I was actually looking forward to drinking soy milk because I really enjoy flavored soy milk and the nutty flavor it adds to hot chocolate or pumpkin steamers. Unfortunately that yummy flavor is not the same without the added sugar. Unsweetened soy milk was blech. I used the whole darn carton but mostly in recipes. I drank a couple of glasses but ick.
Texture-wise it is similar to cashew milk in thickness and works nicely in recipes. Nutritionally, it has slightly fewer calories than fat-free dairy milk and quite a bit less sugar. The original version has about the same amount of sugar as dairy milk.
In a nutshell: Not for drinking (at least for me). I might use it in recipes.