Moove Over Milk

By Jill Nussinow, M.S., R.D.

Whether you choose to avoid animal milk because you are following a vegan diet, or you are lactose intolerant, have allergies, wish to avoid cholesterol, or dislike dairy products, there has never been more choice in non-dairy "milks."

Although commercial soy milk, first imported from Japan, has been available in the U.S. for the past 15 years, only in the last five or so has the competition increased exponentially. Then, four years ago the first rice drink was introduced in the marketplace. Since then, the proliferation of alternatives has made choosing a "milk" more difficult.

There are differences in nutrition content, consistency, price, and most of all taste, which is often the determining factor in making one's choice. Jennifer Raymond, author of The Peaceful Palate Cookbook, reports that often someone will try one brand, dislike the taste, and decide that a milk alternative is not for them. She says, "People need to try many different brands, as they all taste different." Raymond recommends that you continue to try brands until you find one you like.

You can buy every imaginable type of milk alternative, with choices like almond, soy, rice, rice-soy blend, and tofu, in different flavors and with varying degrees of fat and enrichment. They come in powders, liquids, and liquid concentrates in sizes from snack packs to bulk, although most are liquids in quart or liter containers. They can be found plain, unsweetened or sweetened, or containing flavorings such as vanilla, chocolate, or carob.

A healthier alternative to any animal milk in many respects, many dairy alternatives are produced from organic grains or beans. They may be used as a beverage or snack or in cooking and baking.

Saying that you can substitute these beverages for animal milk in any recipe would be misleading. There are at least four areas to consider when choosing which drink will work best. 1) What type of heating will you be doing, if any? Will you be baking or cooking, and at what temperature level? 2) What is the purpose of adding the drink? Is it for liquid or for flavor? 3) What is the taste and flavor that you need from this product? Will what you choose complement the other ingredients in your recipe? For example, you would not want to use a vanilla-flavored drink in most savory recipes. Or are you seeking a neutral flavor more like cow's milk? 4) What consistency or texture are you seeking? How much fat do you want or need? Do you want to add depth or body?

There are no easy answers to these questions but there are some general rules to keep in mind when using these products. Raymond says, "I tend to use soy milk when I want something thick and creamy. It thickens better than rice milk. If I want a true milk flavor I use rice milk." (Better Than Milk, by Sovex also has a milk-like flavor.)

The biggest complaint with the soy beverages is that they tend to curdle at high temperatures and with the addition of acidic foods. Eric Tucker, the head chef at the highly acclaimed Millenium restaurant in San Francisco says, "I prefer rice milk as it has lighter flavors, although it is a bit sweeter. Also, soy milk tends to curdle when exposed to high heat."

Soy milk tends to be heartier even if it is harder to use. It lends a thicker, richer texture especially to recipes like sauces, gravies, and soups.

Almond milk works much like rice milk in cooking and seems better suited to sweeter dishes such as curries or desserts. Rice drinks work well in lighter cream-type soups, and especially when using the vanilla- flavored variety in desserts.

Remember that not all brands taste the same, and personal preference and availability will most likely affect your choice. Personally, I like to use a rice-soy blend as my mainstay for cooking. It doesn't seem to curdle as easily as pure soy and has the milder flavor components of rice drinks.

Since most of the drinks come either in aseptic packages or powder, they are easily stored and kept on hand for emergencies. The aseptic cartons keep the drinks fresh for up to one year without refrigeration. Once opened, the drinks will stay fresh in a cold (under 40 degrees Fahrenheit) refrigerator from 3 to 7 days. Always shake the cartons before using. Soy beverage manufacturers do not recommend freezing.

I have successfully frozen a number of rice beverages for a month or more without any deterioration of texture or flavor. It's best to freeze the drink in a portion size that you are likely to use. If used only in your tea for example, freeze in ice cube trays, pop out the frozen cubes, and store in freezer bags. Defrost as needed.

Of the powders, Solait, a soy drink by Devansoy is shelf stable for up to one and a half years, and Better Than Milk, a tofu-based drink by Sovex, lasts at least 6 months. Solait may also be used as a substitute for dry milk in baking. Richard Martin, sales manager for Sovex, recommends experimenting with the Better Than Milk powder, as results when baking are inconsistent.

Luckily, as these "milks" have become more widely available and are now often found in supermarkets, the number of recipes using them has also increased. When converting older recipes calling for dairy milk, always strive for consistency in flavorings, using sweeter products for desserts and plain or unsweetened milks in savory recipes. Experimentation is often the best teacher.

Green Beans Almondine

(Serves 6 to 8)

This sauce also tastes good on other vegetables or grains.

  • 1 pound green beans
  • 3 Tablespoons sliced almonds
  • 1 cup rice or soy milk
  • 2 Tablespoons arrowroot powder
  • 1 Tablespoon lite tamari
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. String green beans, if necessary. Steam for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, in a dry pan, toast almonds over medium heat, watching carefully so that you do not burn them.
  3. In a saucepan, heat 3/4 cup of the rice milk over medium heat. Do not let it boil. Combine the 1/4 cup remaining rice milk and arrowroot. Mix into heated mixture and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens. Stir in tamari and pepper. Pour hot sauce over green beans. Garnish with toasted almonds.
Total Calories Per Serving: 76
Fat: 2 grams

Sweet Potato Pie

(Serves 8)

A variation of an old favorite.

  • One 7-ounce package soft, fat-free cookies in a flavor like cinnamon,
  • ginger, or graham crackers
  • 1-½ pounds sweet potato, baked
  • ¾ cup Amazake light or vanilla rice drink
  • Half 10.5-ounce box silken lite firm tofu
  • 4 Medjool dates plus 4 for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Process cookies in food processor until they are crumbled.
  3. Press into a pie plate with damp fingers. Chill for 10 minutes and then prebake in the oven for 4 minutes. Let cool at least 10 minutes before filling.
  4. Peel the sweet potatoes and put into food processor. Add the other ingredients except the 4 dates for garnish and process until smooth and the dates are finely chopped. Pour into the cool pie shell.
  5. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Slice the four dates in half and position on top of baked pie. Let the pie cool slightly before serving.
Total Calories Per Serving: 214 Fat: 2 grams

Flageolet Bean Soup

(Serves 6)

These beans have the taste of spring.

  • 2 cups dried flageolet beans * (French green lima beans)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 10 sage leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups soy milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley, finely chopped, for garnish
  1. Pour 5 cups of boiling water over the beans. Cover and leave for 1 hour.
  2. Drain and rinse. Add 6 cups of water and the rest of the ingredients, except soy milk, salt and pepper, and parsley. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes until beans are tender.
  3. Add soy milk and heat through. Remove the parsley and thyme sprigs and the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with parsley. Serve hot.

* Flageolet Beans can sometimes be purchased at specialty food stores.

Total Calories Per Serving: 216
Fat: 1 gram

Cream of Sorrel Soup

(Serves 4)

Sorrel is a lemony flavored leafy green vegetable. This is quite tasty.

  • 3 Tablespoons chicken-flavored broth powder*
  • 2-¾ cups water
  • 2 small potatoes, quartered
  • ½ medium onion
  • 1 bunch of sorrel, washed and chopped
  • 8 ounces tofu
  • ½ cup soy or rice milk
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon parsley or chives and their flowers, for garnish
  1. Combine broth powder and water in a saucepan. Add potatoes and onion and cook until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Add sorrel and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the color fades.
  2. Puree the tofu and soy milk in a food processor until perfectly creamy. Transfer to another dish.
  3. Without washing the processor, add the potato-sorrel mixture and puree until smooth. Add parsley at the end of pureeing. Pour this mixture back into the pot and mix in the tofu puree.
  4. Chill thoroughly if serving cold; otherwise, heat gently, but do not allow to boil or it will curdle. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley or chives and their flowers.

* This vegetarian product is sometimes found in bulk at natural food stores. It does not contain chicken.

Total Calories Per Serving: 167
Fat: 5 grams

Squash Custard

(Serves 6)

The addition of tofu and squash make this a hearty and nutritious snack.
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon Sucanat or brown sugar
  • 1 medium Delicata Squash, baked until soft, to equal 1-½ cups
  • 3-5 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 15 ounces silken lite tofu (1-½ boxes) *
  • 3 Tablespoons apple juice concentrate
  • ¼ cup vanilla rice drink
  • 1 teaspoon agar agar powder
  1. Spray 6 ramekins or custard cups with vegetable cooking spray.
  2. Mix 1 tablespoon maple syrup with Sucanat. Spoon 1/6th of this mixture into each ramekin.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put 1/2 inch water into a large baking pan and set ramekins in this.
  4. Scoop out squash to equal about 1-1/2 cups. Put into food processor. Blend with 3-5 tablespoons maple syrup, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and tofu until smooth.
  5. In a small saucepan, combine apple juice concentrate, rice drink, and agar agar over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring often, and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Combine hot agar mixture with tofu mixture and process well. Spoon 1/6th of the mixture into each ramekin, smoothing the top with a spoon.
  7. Bake 40 to 50 minutes until custard is set. Let cool slightly before serving.
  8. If you'd like, garnish with fruit such as kiwi or raspberries.

* This type of tofu is found in aseptic cartons and does not need to be refrigerated before it is opened.

Total Calories Per Serving: 114
Fat: 2 grams

Tofu Creme Anglaise

(Makes about 1 cup)

As this contains neither eggs nor cream it is certainly not Creme Anglaise, but it sounds better than tofu sauce.

  • Half 10.5-ounce package silken soft tofu
  • 1 Tablespoon apple juice concentrate
  • 2 teaspoons barley malt powder
  • ½ cup vanilla rice drink
  • 1 Tablespoon arrowroot powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  1. Combine tofu, apple juice concentrate, barley malt powder, and 1/4 cup rice milk in blender. Blend until tofu is thoroughly smooth.
  2. In a small bowl combine the remaining 1/4 cup rice milk and the arrowroot. Stir until smooth.
  3. Pour blended tofu mixture into a saucepan and heat over medium heat for about 1 minute. Stir in arrowroot mixture and heat until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat and add maple syrup and vanilla. Stir until well combined.
  4. Use hot, warm, or cold over fresh fruit or cake.
Total Calories Per 2-Tablespoon Serving: 31
Fat: 1 gram

About The Vegetarian Journal and The Vegetarian Resource Group

This article originally appeared in the January/February 1996 issue of The Vegetarian Journal, published by:

The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-8343