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Best milk alternative 2021: Delicious, dairy-free vegan milk options for tea, coffee, cereal and more

Ruby Martin
19 Nov 2021
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Plants may not have udders but they can still produce great milk! Here’s our list of the tastiest and healthiest milk alternatives

From oat and soya to hazelnut and almond, there are so many amazing milk alternatives right now that it’s no wonder people are ditching the dairy in their droves. The best plant-based milk alternatives can revolutionise the way you enjoy your tea, coffee and cereal each day, and are often much healthier for your body and the planet too. Don’t know where to start? Luckily for you, we’ve tried almost every form of dairy-free milk alternative and know exactly what to recommend.

Whether you’re avoiding mammal’s milk for health reasons, ethical reasons or simply out of curiosity, you’re sure to find a plant-based alternative in this list that works for you. Just remember to always shake well before use! Most milk alternatives carry this reminder on the packaging, and it’s sound advice. A good shake makes all the difference, resulting in the optimum creamy smooth finish the makers intended.

Below, you’ll find a brief buying guide answering some of the questions you might have about dairy-free milk but, if you want to get straight to the lactose-free goodies, you can skip ahead to our product roundup.

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How to choose the best milk alternative for you

How many milk alternatives are there?

There are more plant-based milk choices out there than you’d expect, and the list keeps on growing. You’ll have heard of well-established classics like soya, oat and almond milk but that’s just skimming the surface. It seems milk alternatives can be made out of pretty much anything these days, from coconuts and peanuts to peas and potatoes. Think of a nut, seed or grain, and you can probably buy it in milk form.

And when it comes to alternative milk brands, the market is flooded with them. Dozens would be a conservative estimate. What’s more, most plant milk companies have several types of plant milk to choose from, meaning there are more individual milk alternatives out there than you could ever hope to sample.

Is dairy-free milk healthier?

Non-dairy milks can be better for your body than cow or goat’s milk. The majority of plant milks are lower in saturated fat than semi-skimmed or whole cow’s milk, which means they are typically lower in calories too. Better yet, being made from plants means they don’t contain any cholesterol either. There’s also no lactose in dairy-free milks so they are much easier to digest for people with intolerances or allergies to animal products.

If you have any other allergies beyond lactose, you may have to be more careful. Obviously, any nut-based milk is unsuitable for those with nut allergies. And while most milk alternatives are suitable for coeliacs, it’s worth checking for the certified gluten-free label, especially as some oat milks are made in the same factories as gluten products and can contain high enough traces to warrant avoiding.

If health is your main concern it is important to make sure you buy plant milks that don’t have added sugar. The standard versions of some dairy-free milk brands may have sugar added, so it’s better to go for the lighter version if available. Flavoured plant milks (chocolate, vanilla etc.) usually have lots of extra sugar added so they aren’t the best choice from a dietary standpoint, although they are often delicious.

What’s the best milk alternative for tea and coffee?

Your plant-based milk of choice will inevitably come down to personal preference. For example, some people might enjoy the creamy texture and nutty aftertaste that almond or hazelnut milk bring to a hot beverage. But if you have a nut allergy or prefer a more neutral taste to your brew then those two won’t suit.

Soya milk and oat milk are more versatile for use in tea and coffee because their taste isn’t as overpowering and they have a thinner consistency. You’ll likely get the best results if you opt for products like Oatly Barista or Alpro Soya for Professionals that are specifically formulated for hot drinks. Even still, a bit of trial and error might be involved before you find your perfect alternative milk for tea and coffee.

Can you use dairy-free milk in cooking?

There’s no reason why you can’t substitute dairy milk for a non-dairy substitute when cooking, whether you are making a creamy pasta sauce or baking a batch of non-dairy cookies. Some milk alternatives, such as hazelnut and almond, have a more distinct flavour and so may not work in all situations whereas soy and oat won’t alter the taste of the meal at all. Coconut milk (the drink, not the canned stuff) is also in handy if you’re into Thai or Indian cuisine.

How long do milk alternatives keep?

Your dairy-free milk’s lifespan depends largely on whether you buy a long-life carton or standard refrigerated milk. Most dairy-free milks found in the refrigerated section of your supermarket should stay fresh for between one to three weeks, whereas long-life alternatives can last for nine months or more.

Once opened, however, most cartons advise that you consume the milk within five days. Throwing caution to the wind (and provided the milk is resealed and kept chilled) you can get away with drinking it a week or more after its first use – not something you can say for animal milks.

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The best milk alternatives to buy in 2021

1. Oatly Barista Edition: Perfect for tea and coffee

Price: £1.80 | Buy now from Planet Organic

If you haven’t seen Oatly’s advertising by now then it might be time for an eye test. The Swedish dairy-free giant is everywhere, from bus stops to billboards and gigantic wall murals. It’s popular too, and for good reason. Oatly’s drinks provide a healthy, well-balanced alternative to cow’s milk and use only a handful of natural ingredients.

For us, Oatly Barista Edition is the best of the lot. It’s just as tasty as Oatly’s other offerings but has been specifically formulated to produce frothy lattes or cappuccinos when heated and whipped. Even if foam isn’t your thing, Oatly Barista stirs seamlessly into regular teas and coffees, bringing smoothness and just a hint of natural oat sweetness.

Key Specs — Calories per 100ml: 59kcal; Protein per 100ml: 1g; Sugars per 100ml: 4g; Fat per 100ml: 3g


2. Jord Organic Oat Drink: Most versatile plant milk

Price: £1.80 | Buy now from Ocado

Jord may not be a household name like Oatly or Alpro, but what it lacks in fame it more than makes up for in taste. Its creaminess could almost fool you for the real thing, until you’re hit with a subtly sweet oaty aftertaste right at the end. As plant-based milks go, it’s extremely versatile.

Depending on what you mix it with, Jord can either blend into the background (in a coffee, for example) or serve to enhance the existing nutty flavours of your morning muesli.  It mixes well with any hot drink but also works well in milkshakes and cold brews too. In our opinion, it’s also delicious when consumed on its own – more so than any other oat milk we’ve tried.

It’s a shame it’s not certified gluten free, otherwise it would be an all-round winner.

Buy now from Ocado


Alpro Soya No Sugars: The best standard soya milk

Price: £1.40 | Buy now from Ocado

Soya milk was around long before the rise of veganism and the dairy-free boom, maintaining its popularity despite the wave of alternatives that have since emerged. Alpro’s Soya No Sugars is about as standard as soya milk gets, offering a subtle (some may say plain) taste that doesn’t interfere with the flavour of your tea, coffee or cereal.

It’s light on calories, low on fat and has absolutely no sugar whatsoever, making it a perfect choice if you’re dieting. In the absence of sugar, the high protein count and added vitamins (B12, B1, D2) sweeten the deal. Low fat plant-based drinks like this sometimes don’t mix well with hot beverages and may curdle if the water in your mug is still piping hot, so be aware of that when you use Alpro Soya to make your cuppas.

Key Specs — Calories per 100ml: 33kcal; Protein per 100ml: 3.3g; Sugars per 100ml: 0g; Fat per 100ml: 1.8g


3. Innocent Hazelnut: The tastiest hazelnut milk

Price: £2 | Buy now from Ocado

Do you wish everything you consumed tasted like hazelnut? You’ve come to the right drink, because Innocent Hazelnut milk really, really tastes like hazelnut. Despite having no sugar added, this milk is remarkably sweet, pairing perfectly with breakfast cereals, porridge and most of all hot chocolate. Its thick texture is almost smoothie-like, lending hot drinks a creamy and luxurious finish – and it’s extremely satisfying to drink by itself too.

Being made from hazelnuts means it is slightly higher in naturally occurring fats and carbs (and therefore calories) compared with other plant-based milks on this list but that doesn’t mean it’s an unhealthy choice. Innocent Hazelnut has barely any saturated fat, contains helpings of vitamin E and is fortified with calcium.

Key Specs — Calories per 100ml: 67kcal; Protein per 100ml: 0.8g; Sugars per 100ml: 3.5g; Fat per 100ml: 3.2g


4. Koko Dairy Free: The best coconut milk for cooking and overnight oats

Price: £1.20 | Buy now from Ocado

Koko’s Dairy-Free Original coconut milk is a lighter, drinkable alternative to the high fat coconut milk you’d buy in cartons or tins from the supermarket. The coconut taste isn’t as overpowering as condensed coconut milk and cream of coconut, but more than a hint of it remains, so it might not be everyone’s cup of tea or coffee. In our experience, it’s best served in cooking sauces, exotic cocktails and overnight oats.

From a nutritional standpoint, Koko’s coconut milk is decent enough: it’s fairly low in both fat and carbohydrates and not very calorific, but almost completely lacking in protein. It’s also sweetened with grape juice concentrate, which bumps up the sugar content a tad. Per 100ml, it will give you 15% of your daily recommended dose of calcium, vitamin D2 and vitamin B12.

Key Specs — Calories per 100ml: 27kcal; Protein per 100ml: 0.2g; Sugars per 100ml: 1.6g; Fat per 100ml: 2g


5. Innocent Almond Unsweetened: A creamy, smooth and ‘frothable’ nut milk

Price: £2 | Buy now from Ocado

Almond milk is one of the most popular milk alternatives and Innocent’s Almond Unsweetened is as good as it gets. It has a creamy consistency and a lovely roasted almond taste that goes well with hot drinks and cereals. Unlike some other almond milks on the market, it’s also easy to whip up into a froth for fancy homemade coffees.

Healthwise it’s pretty well-balanced, containing a reasonable amount of protein, no added sugars and almost no saturated fat. Like Innocent’s Hazelnut milk, it’s fortified with calcium using seaweed. Don’t worry, you can’t taste the seaweed - just the almond!

Key Specs — Calories per 100ml: 32kcal; Protein per 100ml: 1.4g; Sugars per 100ml: 0.5g; Fat per 100ml: 2.8g


6. Alpro Chocolate Soya: Delicious chocolate milk alternative

Price: £1.40 | Buy now from Ocado

Just because you’re on a plant-based diet doesn’t mean that you should omit a chocolatey drink, and Alpro seems to agree with its chocolate flavoured soya beverages. We found the sweet flavour to be well-rounded without being bitter or overpowering. If you’re familiar with dairy variants, you will notice that it is slightly less sugary, with a faint aftertaste and thinner texture left in the mouth.

As far as the nutritional values are concerned, this milk is rich in both vitamins D and B2, which are important for maintaining a healthy diet. It’s also lactose-free and low in saturated fats, so if you’re searching for a guilt-free way to get that chocolatey taste, this is a great option on its own or mixed into cereal, if that’s your preference. 

Key Specs - Calories per 100ml: 61kcal; Protein per 100ml: 3.1g; Sugars per 100ml: 7.6g; Fat per 100ml: 1.8g 

Buy now from Ocado


7. Minor Figures Oat Milk: Quality oat milk for coffee connoisseurs 

Price: £1.79  | Buy now from Holland and Barrett

There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning, tired, groggy, and desperately searching for your early morning caffeine fix only for the milk to curdle in your cup. That’s where Minor Figures Oat Milk steps in, promising barista quality oat milk that mixes wonderfully when heated through or splashed in cold.

Appearing more and more commonplace in coffee shops and homes across the country, oat milk is the go-to replacement to dairy for its subtle taste and slim texture. As mentioned above, some oat milk brands don’t play nice in tea and coffee due to their thinner consistency. Minor Figure’s oat milk has a long shelf-life and can last a full week when opened, making it an ideal fridge-stocker to keep close at hand for early morning cuppas, cereal or smoothies. 

Key Specs - Calories per 100ml: 48kcal; Protein per 100ml: 0.2g; Sugars per 100ml: 4.5g; Fat per 100ml: 0.2g 


8. Rice Dream Organic Original: A great alternative to soya

Price: £1.50 | Buy now from Tesco

If you’re searching for a dairy-free alternative to milk that is lightweight and versatile, then Rice Dream Organic the way to go. Typically, this type of milk is sweeter than other vegan alternatives, making it a great addition to cereal and coffees. Baking and cooking with rice milk is also straightforward as, much like coconut milk, it is thicker than oat without harbouring the nuttiness of almond or hazelnut alternatives, which can throw the taste of your curry off.

As far as the health benefits go, Rice Dream Organic may be lower in protein and calcium than some others on the list, but it makes up for it by being packed with antioxidants. If you aren’t a fan of soya milk, then pound for pound this is the closest you can get in terms of texture and consistency with a more neutral flavour in your breakfast bowl or brew. 

Key Specs - Calories per 100ml: 49kcal; Protein per 100ml: 0.1g; Sugars per 100ml: 7.1g; Fat per 100ml: 1g

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