Shopping for non-dairy milk has become increasingly confusing, with new flavors and variations added all the time. The three main players remain the same – soy, rice and almond – but what's the difference?
Soy milk is probably the most popular, and the most controversial, depending on how you feel about soy in general. It typically has a thicker consistency than rice or almond milks, and lacking a sweet flavor (in non-sweetened varieties) is probably your best bet for cooking in savory dishes. Soy milk is made by soaking dry soybeans and then grinding them with water. The relationship between soy milk and tofu is similar to that of milk and cheese – both are coagulated protein versions of their liquid counterparts. Compared to dairy milk, soy milk has nearly as much protein, less fat and no cholesterol. Most soy milks are fortified to contain calcium and vitamins.
Perhaps the most watery of the bunch, rice milk has a slightly sweet taste, and can be used in sweet recipes. It is typically made with a ratio of 1 cup cooked short-grain rice (usually brown rice) to 4 cups water. Nutritionally speaking, it contains more carbohydrates than dairy milk and no cholesterol, but does not contain significant portions of calcium or protein, although it is often fortified with vitamins and minerals. With very little natural fat, rice milk is often thickened with tapioca or a seaweed product called carrageenan.
Made by blending almonds into water, almond milk dates back at least as far as Medieval Europe. Sometimes made with raw almonds, it is popular with raw food enthusiasts, though some recipes call for boiled or roasted almonds. It has a slightly sweet and nutty taste and can be used in non-savory dishes. Almond milk has nearly as much protein as dairy milk with little or no saturated fat.
All three non-dairy milks are often sweetened with sugar and other products, so read the labels carefully to be sure you know what you're buying.
- Wikipedia: Soy Milk, Rice Milk
- wiseGEEK: What is Rice Milk? What is Almond Milk?
- About: What are some good substitues for milk?
- Dr. Lau's Otimal Health Newsletter: Soy Milk, Rice Milk or Almond Milk: Which is the Best Alternative Milk for You?
- Slate: Taste-Testing Milk Alternatives