A growing percentage of the population is turning to dairy-free diets either because of the moral implications, the risk factors associated with consuming milk, or food intolerances. You don’t need to be vegan or lactose intolerant to want to cut down on your milk consumption, and you don’t need to be completely dairy-free to try some milk substitutes.
Here at Shelgo Tea, we’ve tried them all, and in this guide, we’ll list the ones we think work particularly well with tea, along with health benefits, costs, and other essential information. If you’re looking for a milk alternative to enjoy with your cup of black tea or red tea, keep reading.
1. Soy Milk
The most popular milk alternative also happens to be the cheapest and most abundantly available here in the United Kingdom. You can find soy milk in all major supermarkets and most local stores. The original variety is sweetened and fortified, so it’s easier for milk drinkers to make the switch.
However, it’s not to everyone’s taste—and it’s not as healthy and “clean” as you might have been led to believe. Soy milk can contain thickeners and flavourings, and the UK’s leading brand contains half a dozen ingredients in addition to water, soybeans, and vitamins. It’s not necessarily unhealthy, but it will raise a few concerns if your goal is to consume as few additives as possible. Look for unsweetened varieties if you want something a little “cleaner”.
Sweetened soy milk makes for a very pleasant cup of tea, although there is an aftertaste that you definitely don’t get with cow’s milk and you will notice the difference.
Nutritionally speaking, there is only marginally less protein in unsweetened soy milk than there is in whole milk, but it also has less fat and fewer calories. It’s worth noting that there have been some concerns regarding the side effects of soy consumption in recent years, but it’s still early days and the topic is still up for debate.
2. Almond Milk
Almond milk has been the leading dairy-free milk in the United States for around 5 years now, after overtaking soy milk. Sales of this nut milk have also increased significantly here in the UK, although as far as we can tell, soy milk is still in the lead.
Almond milk, like soy milk, can contain sweeteners and flavourings, but there are also organic and natural varieties that contain none of these. You can even make it yourself at home by blending almonds with water and then straining the pulp. Unsweetened almond milk is like drinking blended blanched almonds and is perfect if you love the taste of these healthy nuts.
Unsweetened almond milk has fewer calories than soy milk and whole milk, but there is also less protein.
3. Oat Milk
It doesn’t sound very appealing, but oat milk works surprisingly well as a substitute for cow’s milk. It goes well in tea and can even be poured over cereal. If you use it to mix your porridge or Ready Brek in the morning, you likely won’t notice any difference at all.
As far as the calories are concerned, there isn’t a huge difference between oat milk and cow’s milk, and store-bought varieties can include a host of additives. But oat milk is very easy to make at home if you’re worried about consuming flavourings, thickeners, and everything else they add to this dairy-free milk.
4. Cashew Milk
Everything made with cashews seems to works better than the original—if you’ve ever tried cashew butter, you’ll know what we mean. However, that isn’t really the case here, and if you’re expecting something rich, sweet, and creamy, prepare to be disappointed. It’s not that cashew milk is bad—far from it—it’s just that it probably won’t live up to expectations.
It’s a low-calorie alternative that can be made from cashews and water, or even from cashew butter and water. It’s very low in fat, but it’s also low in protein and pretty much everything else. If you’re looking for something that can replace the nutrients you’re missing out on by going dairy-free, this is not it; if you want something that can replace the milk in your tea without tasting terrible, it could be ideal.
Cashew milk is not as easy to find here in the UK as other dairy-free milks on this list, but it’s available in bigger supermarkets and in most vegan-friendly stores, and you can also make it at home without much trouble.
5. Quinoa Milk
The superfood that everyone was raving about a few years ago is as effective as a milk alternative as it is a grain one. It has a nutty flavour and a subtle sweetness, and while you will taste the difference in tea, it is far from unpleasant. It also works really well in porridge while adding some healthy carbohydrates to your breakfast.
Quinoa milk doesn’t contain a great deal of protein, but it is also low in fat, with most of the calories coming from carbs. It has been described as a complete protein source, and to an extent that’s true, but you would need to drink a lot of quinoa milk to benefit from its protein content. In fact, it would take over 6 litres of the stuff to give you your recommended daily allowance of protein, something that cow’s milk and soy milk can provide with 1.3 to 1.5 litres.
Other Dairy-Free Milk Substitutes in the UK
UK supermarkets have been offering dairy-free milks for a few years now, and as this industry grows, the amount of brands and varieties grows with it. However, we’re still a long way behind the US in terms of availability, and if you live in rural areas, as we do, then you’ll struggle to find anything beyond the first three milks on this list.
That’s why it pays to get creative in the kitchen and to start creating your own milk alternatives. You can use most nuts and seeds to do this—simply blend with water, strain out the pulp, and then serve. If it doesn’t taste right, add a thickener or a little sugar.
Some additional varieties that we didn’t mention above include:
- Rice Milk: A thick, creamy, but somewhat bland milk.
- Macadamia Milk: These nuts can be expensive, but they work well when blended into a milk.
- Flax Milk: A healthy milk loaded with nutrients.
- Hemp Milk: Contains plenty of healthy fats.
- Pea Milk: This comes from yellow split peas, as opposed to garden peas.
As with dairy milk, these shouldn’t be added to herbal teas, but they do work very well in black tea and coffee. We also love to add milk to red tea, but opinion seems to be divided on that one.