Plant milk: a milk-alternative derived from plants such as rice, soy beans, or nuts — a beverage that evokes either excitement or aversion. For myself, it’s the former. When I moved to Dublin, I was surprised to see shelves filled with plant-based milks in virtually every supermarket in town, so naturally I set myself the (costly) goal to try every single one. People are increasingly switching from dairy to plant milk for a variety of reasons, be it the environment, animal welfare, or their personal health. Personally, I was intrigued by the abundance of flavours: Innocent’s hazelnut milk quickly became my favourite, with Minor Figures’ oat milk being another top contender (elevated by the carton’s funky graphics). Though Wunda’s pea milk left me furrowing my brow, Alpro’s strawberry-flavoured soy milk always fuels my appetite. Even Dug’s Potato Milk has made its debut in the Irish market recently, demonstrating the sheer culinary creativity on display. However, by the time I was drinking several cartons a week, I realised how quickly the cost started to pile up, especially compared to plain old dairy. In supermarkets, a carton of Alpro plant-based milk will typically set you back €2.50-€3.50, while regular milk only costs around €1-€2.
Let’s face it, milk alternatives can be pricey, but the good news is that they can be easily recreated and customised at home. At its simplest, the only appliances you need are a blender (or in my case, my flatmate’s blender) and a fine mesh strainer (also my flatmate’s, sorry Elly). The next step is sourcing the ingredients. To produce your own homemade plant milk, all you need are two ingredients: the plant of your choice, such as nuts or oats, and water. Simple, right? Thus, using my flatmates as lab rats for my kitchen experiment, I recreated five different plant milks in the comfort of my own kitchen. Each milk has its own flavour, its own purpose, and costs less than its supermarket equivalent.
The Base Recipe
Unsalted and unflavoured nuts/oats are ideal for making your own plant milk. Depending on the plant you pick, your ingredients may require some pre-soaking. A good rule is that most hard nuts, such as cashews, almonds, or hazelnuts, need to be soaked beforehand for at least five hours, ideally overnight, as this will allow them to blend easier with the water. Oats on the other hand simply need a quick rinse. Softening ingredients will cause less damage to your blender blades. In terms of volume, my ideal ratio of nuts to water is anywhere around 1:4. Essentially, for every cup of nuts, you will need four times that volume of water. Less water will yield a creamier, thicker beverage; adding more will make it lighter and thinner. It’s all up to you.
First, strain the pre-soaked nuts/rinsed oats and toss them in a blender. Add in the desired amount of water as well as any optional flavourings or sweeteners. Pitted dates and ground cinnamon, for instance, combine very nicely. In my experience, adding cocoa powder to hazelnut milk and berries to my oat milk always goes down a treat. Vanilla extract and maple syrup are also reliably delicious supplements, while coffee and matcha powder, though currently unexplored in my case, present promising ideas. Blend for 1-2 minutes. Finally, strain the milk twice through a fine-mesh sieve to remove as much of the pulp as possible. You can save the pulp to make smoothies, use it as a vegan ricotta starter, or even incorporate it in your baking! Taste test and tweak your milk until you feel it is perfect. Once done, you can either enjoy it immediately or use it just as you would use its dairy counterpart! Keep in mind, you can only store it in the fridge for up to four days, because a lack of preservatives means a much shorter shelf life. Remember to shake before using.
For savoury uses, such as hearty autumn soups, broths, and curries, this milk is ideal; when turned into liquid, cashews lose their signature earthy flavour, but leave a long-lasting aftertaste. I’ll be using my cashew milk to make a vegan, creamy broth to use in soups.
My almond milk was very similar to its store-bought counterpart, though almond extract could have amplified the flavour further. In terms of texture, it reminded me of semi-skimmed milk, being slightly smooth but not too watery. The almond milk would be an ideal addition to sweeter foods, such as pancakes, cereal, or oatmeal.
I tweaked my hazelnut-water ratio to resemble that of a full-fat milk: creamy and heavy. I also added a spoon of honey as a sweetener and a dash of vanilla for flavouring. The result was a thick, slightly frothy, mildly sweet drink, with a bold hazelnut aftertaste. This milk is best used in coffee or for dipping biscuits.
Chocolate Hazelnut Milk
Using the hazelnut milk as a base, I added 1-2 teaspoons of cocoa powder to make this chocolate beverage. This drink was met with eager anticipation by my flatmates, who complimented the power-pairing of hazelnut and chocolate. This milk is best served slightly warmed, late at night before bed.
Oat & Raspberry Milk
Using oat milk as a base, I added a handful of raspberries and honey to create this sweet and tangy concoction. It’s creamy, heavy, and is best enjoyed alongside breakfast. Ever since I first made my own oat milk, it has been the optimal way to replace dairy milk, being both cost-effective and time-efficient. Combined with the possibility of adding as many supplementary ingredients as I’d like, homemade oat milk stands above any of its store-bought counterparts.
Overall, with an abundance of flavours and combinations to explore, there’s a plant-based milk to suit all needs. Boasting a student-friendly price, homemade plant milk offers a simple, tasty alternative to dairy that won’t break the bank, and tastes all the better for it.