Plant-based milks: weighing your options

Plant-based milks: weighing your options

Featured author: Emma Levez Larocque, Plant-Based RHN

Glasses and mugs of plant-based milk along with the nuts and seeds that they're made from in bowls on a white background.

The popularity of plant-based milks is on the rise. According to the Government of Canada, retail sales of milk alternative beverages were valued at US$336.9 million (approximately $450.94 million CDN) in 2020 and are forecasted to reach US$469.8 million (approximately $633.37 million CDN) in 2025. According to data from Mintel, 161 milk alternative beverages were launched in Canada between January 2018 and February 2021. That’s a lot of plant-based options to choose from!

Why choose plant-based milks?

People are choosing plant-based milks for a number of reasons. First, many varieties offer health benefits when compared to cow’s milk. Second, though there is variety in the environmental impact of plant-based milks, they are invariably more earth-friendly when compared with the massive footprint of dairy milk. And of course, since they’re produced from plants, plant-based milks eliminate the need to take food out of the mouths of babes, literally (something to ponder as Mother’s Day approaches).

A word about mothers and milk…

The dairy industry is arguably one of the cruelest forms of animal agriculture. Besides many instances of outright violence, abuse and neglect that have been documented at factory farms, the very nature of procuring milk requires that cows be kept pregnant, and that calves be taken away from their mothers soon after birth so they don’t drink the milk that is then sold to humans. Moving away from supporting an industry that necessitates the separation of mothers and babies is an act of compassion on Mother’s Day, and every day.

Which plant-based milk should you choose?

Most mainstream grocery stores carry a wide variety of plant-based milks—you may see almond, soy, oat, coconut, cashew, hemp, pea, hazelnut, rice, flax, blends, and others.

There’s an exciting world of plant-based milks to explore, but if you’re new to the concept, the options can be overwhelming. Most options are versatile and can be used as a direct swap for dairy milk in most recipes. In the end, preference largely comes down to personal taste and trying different types is the best way to figure out what you like. We’ve put together some points to consider as you’re getting started.

Let’s do a comparison:

This “at-a-glance” chart provides a comparison of five popular types of plant-based milk.

Download the comparison chart

Diving a little deeper…

Quick Tips

As you’re dipping your toes into the world of plant-based milks, we have a few tips that can help you avoid pitfalls:

1) Read your labels:
As you’re getting started, be sure to look at the label and nutrition information closely. There is plenty of variety, even among different types of milk. They may be sweetened or flavoured, fortified or contain various additives, for example. If you’re looking for a good all-purpose milk, it’s better to go with something unsweetened.  

2) Do a taste test:
Some milks have a sweet flavour even if they are unsweetened (and some versions that are labelled “original” still have sugar added). Be sure to taste any milk before adding it to a savoury dish to ensure you don’t end up with a sweeter-than-desired result.

3) Find your favourite:
If you try one type of plant-based milk and aren’t crazy about it, don’t give up! There are plenty of options to choose from and they are all subtly different—it’s just a matter of finding one that suits your tastes.

A couple of easy (and delicious!) recipes using plant-based milk to start you on your way:

With all the health, environmental and compassion-related benefits they offer, it’s clear that plant-based milks are here to stay. With so many choices in grocery stores and corner stores everywhere, it’s easier than ever to find one that suits your taste and make the switch. We’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on plant-based milks. Which ones are your favourites? How are you using plant-based milks in your life?

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