Fresh Milk Substitutes: taste and nutrition

This article compares several different beverages that might serve as a sufficient substitute for fresh milk in case of disruption to the food supply, or in cases of loss of electrical power and refrigeration. These options for fresh milk substitutes are evaluated based on both taste and nutrition. The point of reference for the comparison is 2% Milk, organic.

Milk, 2% organic
1 cup
calories: 130
fat: 5 g
carbs: 12 g
protein: 8 g

The possible substitutes for fresh milk are several:

1. Shelf-stable ultra-pasteurized milk

This type of milk has been subjected to Ultra High Temperature (UHT) pasteurization, and is sealed in special packaging, so that the milk does not need refrigeration, until it is opened. Obviously, this option is closest to fresh milk, and would have the same nutritional content.

However, it has several disadvantages. It costs substantially more than fresh milk. It will only keep for up to 5 or 6 months on the shelf (according to the ‘best by’ dates on the packages). The taste is, surprisingly, not quite the same as fresh milk. It has a slightly cooked taste to it. But the main disadvantage is the likelihood that, if fresh milk becomes unavailable, shelf-stable milk will also be unavailable. So you can’t store it long-term with your other stored food, and it won’t be available if fresh milk is unavailable. Not a practical option.

2. Reconstituted fat-free powdered milk

Milk is available in dry form, either as non-fat (made from skim milk) or full-fat (made from whole milk). The dry whole milk variety does not keep well because of the fat content. The non-fat dry milk will keep for one and a half to two years if kept dry, cool, and well-sealed.

However, if you have ever tasted liquid milk made from non-fat dry milk powder, you know that it is a far cry from milk fresh from the supermarket. I personally don’t find it suitable even for use in coffee. The best use that I’ve found for powdered milk is to add it to other foods. Instant oatmeal becomes creamier and better tasting if prepared with some dried milk. The milk greatly increases the protein content of the oatmeal. It can be added to soup or other foods with much the same effect. And it can be used in baking.

3. Soymilk (Silk brand, original flavor)
1 cup
calories: 90
fat: 3.5 g
carbs: 8 g
protein: 6 g

Of all the liquid non-dairy milk substitutes, soymilk is the most nutritious. The protein content is close to that of real milk, and the carb content varies depending on how much sugar they add. So you can usually find a brand and flavor that will have more or less calories, just as you prefer. It has a fat content in-between that of 1% milk and 2% milk, which is not such a bad thing. As for caloric content, that varies depending on which flavor or version of the soymilk you choose. The chocolate flavor has, I think, the most calories and sugar.

On taste, soymilk does not do as well; it has a significant soy after-taste. I’ve tried soymilk in my coffee, and find it unacceptable. The coffee is dominated by the soy taste. However, on cereal, the soy taste is lost within the flavor of the grains, so soymilk is just as good (in my opinion) as milk when used on cereal. Perhaps certain cereals would be adversely affected in flavor by the soymilk, but I think most would not be. The chocolate version of soymilk is much higher in calories, due to added sugar, but I think it has the best taste, of all the soy milk versions, when drinking it plain in a glass.

Soymilk and the other milks considered below are all shelf-stable for more than a year. See the ‘best by’ date on the packaging for specifics. This means that you can store this type of milk substitute medium-term. And if you carefully rotate your stored food by expiration date, you would be able to keep a constant supply in storage.

4. Almond milk (Almond breeze, vanilla)
1 cup
calories: 90
fat: 2.5 g
carbs: 16 g
protein: 1 g

Almond milk has about the same fat content as 1% milk, and fewer calories. But the protein is far less than in milk. The same problem occurs with the other milk substitutes below: far less protein than milk. And in many cases the essential amino acid profile is also not as good as milk. Milk is a complete protein, with all essential amino acid in ideal proportions. Rice is lacking in lysine. Almonds are lacking in lysine and methionine. Coconut milk, at least in the form of the supermarket beverage, has practically no protein. Hemp milk is low in protein and has less lysine than milk, but otherwise it has a good essential amino acid profile. However, none of these options equals or exceeds real milk in terms of total protein and essential amino acids.

5. Rice milk (Rice Dream, original classic)
1 cup
calories: 120
fat: 2.5 g
carbs: 24 g
protein: 1 g

What does rice milk taste like? Liquid rice. While soy milk and almond milk do taste somewhat like soy and almonds respectively, their taste is not too strong. But rice milk has a strong rice taste. And it’s not just an after-taste, it’s a during-and-after taste. Rice milk is not to my liking. It does not taste bad, though.

As for nutrition, Rice milk cannot compare to soy milk or fresh milk. Rice is low in protein, soy is high in protein, and so are the milks made from them. Rice milk has higher calories than soy milk, but I’m not sure if this is brand-specific or not.

6. Coconut milk (SO Delicious, original)
1 cup
calories: 70
fat: 4.5 g
carbs: 8 g
protein: 0 g

There is some protein in the raw milk that comes from the coconut. But by the time it is processed into this beverage, it has practically no protein. The amount of fat is about the same as in 2% milk, and it is low in carbs and calories.

As for the taste, surprisingly it did not taste much like coconut. In fact the taste is so mild, I don’t know what it tastes like. It tastes unflavored. So the taste is not objectionable. Because it has practically no taste — in my very subjective opinion.

7. Hemp milk (Tempt by Living Harvest, chocolate flavor)
1 cup
calories: 170
fat: 6 g
carbs: 24 g
protein: 2 g

The hemp milk that I bought is higher in calories than the other milk substitutes, but this is mainly because I chose the chocolate flavor variety, which is high in added sugar. This also explains the high amount of carbs. Except for soymilk, hemp milk does better than the other substitutes for protein content. And the dietary fat in hemp has both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, in ideal proportions. So in terms of nutrition, hemp is competitive with soy milk.

What does hemp milk taste like? It has a strong hemp flavor. But if you’ve never had hemp, well, it is a strong grassy nutty flavor. I’ve cooked with hemp oil as well as hemp protein. But I have to say that the taste of hemp milk is stronger. Maybe it is an acquired taste, but I liked the hemp milk least of all the milk substitutes.

For drinking, the coconut milk had the mildest taste, and almond milk was the most agreeable flavor among everything else. Soy milk is excellent on cereal; I think I prefer it to milk on cereal. Chocolate soy milk was tasty, but the chocolate doesn’t completely disguise the soy taste. And nothing really compares to the flavor of milk drank straight from the glass.

How do any/all of these milk substitutes taste in coffee? Terrible. Sure, shelf-stable milk is fine in coffee. The slight difference in taste from fresh milk is not noticeable in the coffee. But every other option above is not compatible with my palate. If fresh milk ever becomes unavailable, I might have to switch to tea.

– Thoreau

5 Responses to Fresh Milk Substitutes: taste and nutrition

  1. How about evaporated milk?

    • Canned evaporated milk keeps fairly well, not as long as dry milk. But it can’t be reconstituted to anything approaching the taste of fresh milk. It’s good for baking though.

  2. I used low fat dry milk on the boats I deliver, many time it is a 18 to 30 day croosing. I found that by doubling the amount and keeping it chilled for 24 hours, to let it disolve completely, taste not too damn bad. Works for ceral. coffee and cooking.

  3. If you go to walmart and look in the mexican food section you can find a powered whole milk powder product. I t is much richer tasting than no fat and it can be used in coffee. I have a couple cans when i run out of fresh milk i use that and its better tasting than any no fat dry product i have tasted.