|Type||Nondairy beverage and ingredient|
|Flavor||Various; creamy texture|
|Ingredients||Water and a grain, pseudocereal, legume, nut, seed, or coconut (which is a drupe as defined by the US Library of Congress)|
Plant milk (plant-based liquids, alternative milk, nut milk or vegan milk) is a plant juice that resembles the color of milk and refers to manufactured, nondairy beverages made from a water-based plant extract for flavoring and aroma. Plant milks are vegan beverages consumed as plant-based alternatives to dairy milk, and often provide a creamy mouthfeel. For commerce, plant-based liquids are typically packaged in containers similar and competitive to those used for dairy milk, but cannot be labeled as "milk" within the European Union. In 2018, among the roughly 20 plants used to manufacture plant milk, almond, soy, and coconut were the highest-selling plant milks worldwide. The global plant milk market was estimated at US$16 billion in 2018.
Plant-based beverages have been consumed for centuries, with the term "milk-like plant juices" used since the 13th century. Across various cultures, plant milk has been both a traditional beverage and a flavourful ingredient in sweet and savory dishes, such as the use of coconut milk in curries. Plant milks are also used to make "ice cream", plant cream, vegan cheese, and "yogurt", such as soy yogurt. A 2018 study found that 54% of U.S. consumers "would like to eat more plant-based foods and beverages".
The Wabanaki and other Native American tribal nations in the northeastern United States did make milk and infant formula from nuts. According to the American Vegan Society because this fact is not very well-known it "shows how the historical record was unwittingly distorted to mask this proto-vegan tradition."
Horchata, a beverage originally made in North Africa from soaked, ground, and sweetened tiger nuts, spread to Iberia (now Spain) before the year 1000. In English, the word "milk" has been used to refer to "milk-like plant juices" since 1200 AD.
Recipes from the 13th-century Levant exist which describe the first plant milk: almond milk. Soy was a plant milk used in China during the 14th century. In Medieval England, almond milk was used in dishes such as ris alkere (a type of rice pudding) and appears in the recipe collection, The Forme of Cury. Coconut milk (and coconut cream) are traditional ingredients in many cuisines such as in South and Southeast Asia, and are often used in curries.
Plant milks may be regarded as milk substitutes in Western countries, but have traditionally been consumed in other parts of the world, especially ones where there are higher rates of lactose intolerance (see especially lactose intolerance: epidemiology section).
Plant milks can be made from:
- Grains: barley, fonio, maize, millet, oat, rice, rye, sorghum, teff, triticale, spelt, wheat
- Pseudocereals: amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa
- Legumes: lupin, pea, peanut, soy
- Nuts: almond, brazil, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan, pistachio, walnut
- Seeds: chia seed, flax seed, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, sesame seed, sunflower seed
- Other: coconut (fruit; drupe), potato (tuber), tiger nut (tuber)
A blend is a plant milk created by mixing two or more types together. Common examples of blends are almond-coconut milk and almond-cashew milk. Pacific Foods' 7 Grain plant milk consists of oat, rice, triticale, wheat, barley, spelt, and millet.
Other traditional plant milk recipes include:
- Kunu, a Nigerian beverage made from sprouted millet, sorghum, or maize
- Sikhye, a traditional sweet Korean rice beverage
- Amazake, a Japanese rice milk
|Milk Types||Greenhouse Gas Emissions (kg CO2-Ceq per 200 g)|
|Milk Types||Water Use (L per 200 g)|
|Milk Types||Land Use (m2 per 200 g)|
Although there are variations in the manufacturing of plant milks according to the starting plant material, as an example, the general technique for soy milk involves several steps, including:
- cleaning, soaking and dehulling the beans
- grinding of the starting material to produce a slurry, powder or emulsion
- heating the processed plant material to denature lipoxidase enzymes to minimize their effects on flavor
- removing sedimentable solids by filtration
- adding water, sugar (or sugar substitutes) and other ingredients to improve flavour, aroma, and micronutrient content
- pasteurizing the pre-final liquid
- homogenizing the liquid to break down fat globules and particles for a smooth mouthfeel
- packaging, labeling and storage at 1 °C (34 °F)
The actual content of the highlighted plant in commercial plant milks may be only around 2%. Other ingredients commonly added to plant milks during manufacturing include guar gum, xanthan gum, or sunflower lecithin for texture and mouthfeel, select micronutrients (such as calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin D), salt, and natural or artificial ingredients—such as flavours characteristic of the featured plant—for aroma, color, and taste. Plant milks are also used to make ice cream, plant cream, vegan cheese, and yogurt, such as soy yogurt.
The production of almond-based dairy substitutes has been criticized on environmental grounds as large amounts of water and pesticides are used. The emissions, land, and water footprints of plant milks vary, due to differences in crop water needs, farming practices, region of production, production processes, and transportation.
Nutritional comparison with cow's milk
Generally, because plant milks are manufactured using processed extracts of the starting plant, plant milks are lower in nutrient density than dairy milk and are fortified during manufacturing to add precise levels of micronutrients, commonly calcium and Vitamins A and D.
|Nutritional content of fortified cow, soy, almond and oat milks|
per 250 mL cup
|Energy, kJ (kcal)||620 (149)||330 (80)||160 (39)||500 (120)|
|Saturated fat (g)||4.55||0.5||0||0.5|
|Vitamin B12 (µg)||1.10||2.70||0||1.2|
|Vitamin A (IU)[a][b]||395||503||372||267|
|Vitamin D (IU)[a][c]||124||119||110||144|
- Commonly added to plant milks, which do not naturally contain significant levels of the nutrient. Added to all three plant milks presented in this table.
- Vitamin A fortification is only required for skimmed milk in the US.
- Vitamin D fortification for dairy milk is mandatory in the US.
Packaging and commerce
To improve competition, plant milks are typically packaged in containers similar to those of dairy milks. Advertising for plant milks may contrast the intensive farming effort to produce dairy milk with the relative ease of harvesting vegan sources, such as oats, rice or soybeans.
In the United States, plant milk sales grew steadily by 61% over the period 2012 to 2018. Among plant milks, almond (64% market share), soy (13% market share), and coconut (12% market share) were category leaders in the United States during 2018. Oat milk sales increased by 250% in Canada during 2019, and its growing consumption in the United States and United Kingdom led to production shortages from unprecedented consumer demand. In 2020, one major coffee retailer – Starbucks – added oat milk, coconut milk, and almond milk beverages to its menus in the United States and Canada. During 2020, oat milk sales in the United States increased to $213 million, becoming the second most consumed plant milk after almond milk ($1.5 billion in 2020 sales).
Labeling and terminology
Traditionally a variety of non-dairy products have been described with the word milk, including the traditional digestive remedies milk of magnesia and milk of bismuth. Latex, the complex inedible emulsion that exudes from the stems of certain plants, is generally described as milky and is often sold as "rubber milk" because of its white appearance. The word latex itself is deducted from the Spanish word for milk.
In December 2013, European Union regulations stated that the terms "milk", "butter", "cheese", "cream" and "yoghurt" can only be used to market and advertise products derived from animal milk, with a small number of exceptions including coconut milk, peanut butter and ice cream. In 2017, the Landgericht Trier (Trier regional court), Germany, asked the Court of Justice of the European Union, to clarify European food-labeling law (Case C-422/16), with the court stating that plant-based products cannot be marketed as milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt within the European Union because these are reserved for animal products; exceptions to this do not include tofu and soy. In the United Kingdom, strict standards are applied to food labeling for terms such as milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, which are protected to describe dairy products and may not be misused to describe non-dairy produce.
In the United States, the dairy industry petitioned the FDA to ban the use of terms like "milk", "cheese", "cream" and "butter" on plant-based analogues (except for peanut butter). FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, stated on July 17, 2018 that the term "milk" is used imprecisely in the labeling of non-dairy beverages, such as soy milk, oat milk and almond milk: "An almond doesn't lactate", he said. In 2019, the US National Milk Producers Federation petitioned the FDA to restrict labeling of plant-based milks, claiming they should be described as "imitation". In response, the Plant-Based Foods Association stated the word "imitation" was disparaging, and there was no evidence that consumers were misled or confused about plant-based milks. A 2018 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation found that consumers in the United States do not typically confuse plant-based analogues with animal milk or dairy products. Labeling regulations for plant-based products with names such as "milk" or "yoghurt" were under review, as of 2018.
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