I Tried 20 Different Kinds of Oat Milk — These Are the 2 I’ll Be Buying from Now On
Milk (you know, the kind that comes from a cow), is on the short list of things I cannot possibly do without. In cereal, coffee, strong black tea — it’s my go-to. It’s also a cookie’s best friend … and an insomniac’s. These days, though, striding past the dairy case leaves the impression that not everyone is with me on this.
It’s clear that non-dairy, plant-based “milk’’ products are dramatically on the rise. Along with the almond, coconut, and soy products that have been around for what seems like forever, right now we are witnessing an exploding market for oat-based milk. As of last week, Starbucks made one popular oat milk option a nationwide offering, so the hype is here to stay.
I was convinced I would be opposed to oat milk for the same reasons that all other plant-based milk substitutes fail to do it for me. Something is usually amiss with the texture and I’ve yet to find a milk substitute that ever tastes good to me in coffee. But after sampling 20 different kinds of oat milk in cereal, smoothies, and coffee, it’s clear that I was too quick to judge. And while I still will always prefer cow’s milk, I now have two new favorite oat milks that I recommend to anyone open to adding a new dimension to their milk universe.
How We Tested the Oat Milks
First off, 20 versions of oat milk is a lot, which just goes to show how expansive the category is. In my research, I noticed that a few brands had both plain and extra-creamy (fattier) versions, meant to foam up in lattes and other coffee beverages. There are also refrigerated cartons and shelf-stable options galore. For the sake of being thorough, I included every kind I could get my hands on (except for low-fat renditions).
A few helpers and I (safely) tasted each brand, taking time to observe flavor and texture characteristics. As we poured and drank them from tall glasses, the color range alone was startling. Some were milky white, others had a creamsicle hue, and there were many unappetizingly gray or even ecru samples.
Texture was another strange gamut, ranging from as thin as water to soup-like in viscosity. One was so gritty it poured like a milkshake and went down the gullet like liquid chalk. Many options left a film on our teeth; only a few were smooth and creamy like milk. Mouthfeel-wise, we came to appreciate the brands that struck a balance: not too thick or too thin.
As for taste, some were mild and sweet, but only that — just one-dimensional. Others were rounder-tasting and fatty — a lot like whole milk but with a faintly oat-y layer. A few were toasty and more like oatmeal, and a few had a funky, earthy aftertaste that almost reminded us of cheese (not in a bad way, but not what we expected).
As we refined our preferences by drinking the oat milks straight, we sat down again to sample our lineup poured over Cheerios (chosen for its familiar, oat-based taste). We also made smoothies with the oat milks. Perhaps the most crucial of the testing methods? The coffee test. If I’m going to buy this stuff, it has to taste good in coffee. I pulled a representative sampling of our thus-far favorite oat milk brands out of the lineup — some oat-forward, some milkier — and poured them into mugs of fresh-brewed French roast, giving every carton and box a good shake before I poured.
Now that you have a sense of our methodology, onto the winners.
The Best Shelf-Stable Oat Milk: Elmhurst Milked Oats, Unsweetened
The standout in coffee was Elmhurst, which added just a hint of sweetness and nothing distracting or cloying. “Quite milky,’’ one taster reported. “If you said it was milk, you’d have fooled me.’’ With 1.5 grams of fat and 1 gram of sugar, it also has one of the shortest ingredients lists of any brand in our lineup: just water, oats, and salt (no gums, emulsifiers, vitamins, or other additives).
Elmhurst was also one of our favorites in smoothies and cereal, with a mild, clean taste of oats and a thin, but not-at-all-watery texture. While other brands tend to use oil for smoother texture and a mouthfeel that is more like milk, Elmhurst derives its creaminess with a water process that separates the components of the grain. It comes in a shelf-stable box, so you won’t find it in the refrigerated dairy case, but chill it before use and keep it chilled after opening.
Buy: Elmhurst Milked Oats, Unsweetened, $5.29 for 32 ounces at Thrive Market
The Best Refrigerated Oat Milk: Chobani Plain, Extra Creamy
Now that we have a shelf-stable winner, it’s time to announce the refrigerated winner. As I mentioned above, the various brands we tried ranged deeply in thickness and texture. This carton from Chobani was by far one of the thickest, and most certainly frothiest, which made it the most cream-like addition to coffee. I imagine putting this in a milk frother would result in barista-level latte art as well.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this option was featured on Kitchn Essentials, Grocery Edition, which validated its high ranking in this head-to-head taste test. Faith Durand, Kitchn’s editor-in-chief, prefers this extra-creamy version stirred into strong iced coffee. (She adds a dash of maple syrup for sweetness.)
Buy: Chobani Plain, Extra Creamy, $3.39 for 52 ounces at Instacart
What’s your favorite oat milk?