Dairy-Free Milk Substitutes: Soy, Nut, Rice and More

From soy milk to hemp milk, here's what's available

Whether you've got a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance in your family, or you're simply giving up milk for a while as part of an elimination diet, you may find yourself checking out the rows of dairy-free milk substitutes in the grocery store. There are quite a few options available, and most have slightly different properties for drinking and cooking.

Here's a cheat sheet listing your many options. Sample a variety to figure out which taste suits you best; most are quite distinctive.

Soy Milk

The most widely available dairy-free milk alternative is soy milk. You can find it on the grocery store shelf or in the refrigerated section. It is also one of the more cost-effective milk alternatives.

Popular brands include:

  • Silk. This ubiquitous brand comes in half-gallon containers, and is available in several different flavors, including: vanilla, unsweetened vanilla, chocolate, and organic. Look for it in the refrigerated section of the supermarket.
  • Westsoy. Your choices in Westsoy soy milk include: organic, organic unsweetened, organic plus with added vitamins, organic vanilla, low fat, nonfat, and the company's Soy Slender line of flavored soymilk beverages. Westsoy comes in shelf-stable boxes, and is found with other shelf-stable beverages at the store.
  • Edensoy. All organic, Edensoy soy milk choices include: original sweetened, original enriched, unsweetened, vanilla, vanilla enriched, cocoa, and carob. Edensoy is available in shelf-stable boxes, and does not need to be refrigerated.

Soy milk is high in protein, making it an attractive option for cooking and baking. You should choose an unsweetened, plain soy milk for use in cooking, or the flavor in the soy milk will tend to overwhelm the flavors in your recipe.

Soy itself has a distinctive taste, so make sure you like it before adding it to your favorite cereal. Some people find the texture slightly grainy, but that's a common problem with all milk substitutes. Most, but not all, soy milks are considered gluten-free, and some soy milks are lower in carbs than others.

Nut Milks

Possible nut milk choices include: almond milk, coconut milk, hazelnut milk, and cashew milk. All are made basically the same way: by grinding up the nuts and blending them with water. Most brands also add sweetener and other ingredients meant to stabilize the milk.

Almond milk is among the most common nut milks. Popular almond milks include:

  • Blue Diamond. Since Blue Diamond is a nut company, it makes sense that it would offer almond milk. Blue Diamond Almond Breeze comes in original, vanilla, chocolate, unsweetened, and unsweetened vanilla. Be aware that the sweetened versions may contain more sugar than competitors.
  • Silk. Although Silk got its start with soy milk, it since has expanded to other alternative milks. You'll find Silk almond milk alongside soy milk in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
  • Califia Farms. This company makes a bunch of different almond milks and almond milk/coconut milk blends, including: unsweetened vanilla, toasted coconut almond milk, and chocolate coconut almond milk. Califia Farms also makes barista blend almond milk for use in coffee beverages. Look for Califia Farms online or in many grocery stores.
  • Pacific Foods. Almond milk varieties available from Pacific Foods include: original, unsweetened, and vanilla. The company also offers a barista blend. Look for Pacific Foods almond milk in the shelf-stable section of the supermarket.
  • Elmhurst Milked Almonds. This brand, made only with almonds, cane sugar, water, salt, and natural flavors, claims it uses more nuts than other companies in its almond milk. It's also non-GMO, carrageenan-free, and does not contain artificial flavors. Look for it online or at some upscale grocery stores.

Nutrition varies widely between brands of almond milk.

If you don't like almond milk, consider trying hazelnut milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, or a blend of nut milks. There are multiple choices on the market, including:

  • Silk Protein Nutmilk, made with almonds and cashews (in the refrigerated section)
  • Pacific Foods Hazelnut Milk in original, vanilla, and chocolate (in the shelf-stable section)
  • Pacific Foods Cashew Milk in original and vanilla flavors (in the shelf-stable section)
  • Califia Farms Go Coconuts coconut milk (in the refrigerated section or online)
  • So Delicious almond and cashew milk (in the shelf-stable section)
  • Elmhurst Milked walnuts, hazelnuts, and cashews (online or in select supermarkets)
  • Milkadamia macadamia nut milk (online or in some supermarkets)

Like soy milk, nut milks are high in protein and useful for baking. You may find their taste blends in with baked goods, coffee, or nutty cereals better than soy milk, although personal tastes vary. Like soy milk, some people do find them grainy.

Nuts are high in "good fats" and Vitamin E. One drawback to both soy and nut milk is that both are common allergens.

Like soy milk, some nut milks are considered gluten-free.

Rice Milk

Unlike soy and nut milks, rice milk is not especially allergenic, making it an attractive choice for families concerned about avoiding allergens in young children.

Common rice milk brands include:

  • Rice Dream. Billed as "the original rice milk," Rice Dream is available in: original, vanilla, enriched, enriched vanilla, horchata (cinnamon and vanilla), chocolate, and sprouted rice flavors. Look for it in shelf-stable boxes in the grocery section of the supermarket.
  • Pacific Foods. This rice milk is available in original and unsweetened varieties. Again, it's available in shelf-stable boxes in the grocery section.
  • Trader Joe's Rice Drink. If you happen to have a Trader Joe's nearby, the company's Rice Drink is another shelf-stable rice milk option.

Rice milk, especially vanilla flavored, is quite sweet. Its texture is the most watery of all milk alternatives, and it's not particularly useful for cooking.

Low in protein, rice milk does not make a good nutritional replacement for milk unless heavily fortified. Drink it as a beverage or pour it on cereal.

There's some controversy over whether Rice Dream is truly gluten-free. If you need to avoid gluten, consider buying Pacific Foods rice milk instead.

Hemp Milk

A newer milk alternative is hemp milk. Its protein level and texture fall in between that of rice and soy milk. Like the other milks, hemp milk recipes take hemp seeds (which are tiny), grind them, and blend them with water and other ingredients to create a "milk"-like beverage.

Hemp milk brand options include:

  • Pacific Foods. This brand makes unsweetened original and unsweetened vanilla hemp milk. Both are available in shelf-stable boxes.
  • Tempt Hemp. Tempt hemp milk is available in: original, original unsweetened, vanilla, unsweetened vanilla, chocolate, and unsweetened coconut. It's packaged both in shelf-stable boxes and in refrigerated bottles.

Hemp milk contains essential fatty acids plus healthy amounts of vitamin A and vitamin E. It's also a source of potassium and calcium, needed to build strong bones.

Hemp milk is more watery than regular milk, but has enough protein for use in some cooking applications, including sauces that don't rely on large amounts of protein.

Oat Milk

Oat milk is gaining favor as a milk substitute that works well in coffee drinks and over cereal (try it on oatmeal).

Like hemp milk, oat milk has a moderate amount of protein, making it more useful than rice milk for cooking. However, it's still not a true drop-in replacement for cow's milk in baking.

Oat milk brands include:

  • Pacific Foods. This brand offers oat milk in original, vanilla, and barista blend flavors. Look for it in shelf-stable boxes.
  • Oatly. A Swedish company, Oatly makes original, low fat, and chocolate oat milks. It also makes a barista blend.

It's fairly mild, nutty tasting and is an obvious, natural match for hot cereals or other breakfast foods.

Oat milk may not be suitable for people who have celiac disease and can't consume the gluten grains wheat, barley, and rye, since oats commonly are cross-contaminated with those grains. In addition, some people with celiac also react to avenin, a protein found in oats that's very similar in structure to the gluten protein.

Goat Milk and Other Ruminant Milk

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Goat, sheep, and other ruminant milks contain similar proteins to cow's milk and may have a high degree of cross-reactivity. That means if you're allergic to cow's milk, you are likely to react to other ruminant milks, too.

However, some people who can't have cow's milk actually do okay with goat or sheep milk. Therefore, while these are not truly dairy-free alternatives, they're commonly grouped with milk substitutes.

If you are considering trying goat milk (say, drinking it yourself, or giving it to a toddler), consult an allergist first.

These milks contain lactose and are not suitable if you're lactose-intolerant without prior use of an over-the-counter lactase supplement.

You'll probably have to visit a natural foods store or a Whole Foods grocery store to locate goat or sheep milk. Look for them in the refrigerated section near the regular milk products.

A Word from Verywell

As you can see, there's a huge variety of non-dairy milks on the market, and it may take some trial and error before you determine your favorite. Many people find they prefer one type of non-dairy milk for drinking and for cereal, while another works best for recipes.

When baking or cooking with non-dairy milk, make sure to choose a milk that's unflavored. You shouldn't have to adjust the amount of milk you use, but you may find that the consistency of the batter or sauce is thinner than you're used to, depending on the milk you use.

You also can consider using your non-dairy milk of choice to make golden milk. Also known as a turmeric latte, golden milk combines turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and non-dairy milk (usually almond or coconut milk) into a beverage that's said to help ease inflammation and enhance wellness.

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