Dairy alternatives are everywhere, and consumers are eager to embrace them. In fact, plant-based milks now make up 10% of the overall dairy market, while per capita consumption of milk has dropped 13% in the US and 4.1% in Europe. In Western Europe, sales of almond, coconut, rice, and oat beverages doubled from 2009-2014, while they increased three times in Australasia and nine times in North America1.
In general, you can substitute any plant-based milk for dairy milk 1:1, except in recipes where the protein plays an important structural role (e.g. baked applications). You can also try combining beverages like soy or oat and pea to provide a more complete protein.
You may also want to consider the differences in flavour and nutrition. Many milk alternatives have added sugar to mask the "beany" or "cerealy" flavours. In many countries, dairy milk may also be fortified with key nutrients (like vitamins A & D), so look for options that have no (or low) added sugars and contain the same fortified nutrients as milk. Finally, if you want to create latte art, oat beverage is the best alternative to cow’s milk.
Cow’s milk – a good source of protein and essential nutrients, like calcium. For every 100 grams, it contains more than 3 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fat, in 50 kcal. However, people with dairy allergy need to avoid milk, and those with lactose intolerance may need to limit their intake.
Soy milk – a good source of complete protein. For every 100 grams, it contains more than 3 grams of protein, and 2.1 grams of fat in 37 calories. It also contains soy isoflavones, but is unsuitable for those with soy allergy.
Pea milk – a good source of protein. For every 100 grams, it contains more than 3 grams of protein, and 1.9 grams of fat in 29 calories. However, pea milk is an incomplete source of protein, as it doesn’t contain all essential amino acids.
Oat milk - Contains soluble fibre associated with heart-healthy benefits. For every 100 grams, it contains 1.6 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fat in 52 calories. It may contain gluten, so those with coeliac disease/gluten intolerance should avoid.
Coconut milk - High in calories, total fat, and saturated fat. For every 100 grams, contains 140 calories and 13 grams of fat. Low and incomplete source of protein (1 gram per 100 grams).
Almond milk - Low and incomplete source of protein. For every 100 grams, contains .6 gram of protein, 1.1 grams of fat in 15 calories. Contains healthy fats from nuts. Unsuitable for those with nut allergies.
Rice milk - Not a good source of protein, and does not contain all essential amino acids (incomplete). For every 100 grams, contains .3 gram of protein, 2 grams of fat in 47 calories.
FAIRR Sustainable Protein DD09, Feb. 2018.