One of the biggest issues for vegetarians and vegans is how to find good substitutions for dairy milk for drinking and cooking. There are certainly a lot of products out there, but the variety can be confusing, especially to those new to the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. This was a big issue for us when we first made the switch to a vegetarian diet. We had always been pretty big dairy consumers, especially when the kids were growing up.
About.com has a pretty good rundown of the three major dairy substitutes: soy milk, almond milk and rice milk. In it, you can get a pretty good overview of the comparisons between the three, but I thought I’d give you a first person opinion of someone who tried them all pretty extensively over several months.
Comparing Them Nutritionally
Nutritionally, all of the three are pretty good for you. Soy milk has the most protein, comparable to cow’s milk and has less fat. It also has no cholesterol and is usually fortified, making it high in calcium. Rice milk doesn’t have as much to offer nutritionally, but is low in calories and has no fat. As long as you don’t have a gluten sensitivity, it’s safe for you. Almond milk has more fat than the other two, but it’s healthy fats, primarily Omega-3s, which are great for your heart. It has some protein, but less than soy milk.
Comparing Them for Drinking and Cereal
Soy milk can be a bit thick for some people’s tastes. My kids thought it was too thick in the unflavored and vanilla varieties, but they liked it as a substitute for chocolate milk. They didn’t care for it as much in cereal. However, soy milk is wonderful in smoothies and shakes because of its high protein and it’s rich, creamy texture.
On the other hand, nobody liked rice milk for drinking straight or using on cereal. Everyone thought it was too thin and had little flavor.
Almond milk was the drinking favorite on our house and still is. The unflavored variety is a good coffee lightener, especially if you like designer coffee. It’s certainly better for you than the flavored artificial creamers sold in stores. A friend who owns a tea shop serves a vanilla chai that is flavored with vanilla almond milk and it is absolutely delicious.
Comparing Them for Cooking and Baking
Soy milk works very well for both cooking and baking. It’s rich enough to work in cream soups and sauces and also cake and pudding recipes.
Rice milk is a bit thin for most cream sauces or soups and it didn’t work well for me in many cake recipes, either. However, I did like it in pudding recipes and it’s great to use in Asian-flavored dishes such as curries.
Almond milk isn’t quite as rich as soy and it has that underlying nutty flavor no matter what you do, so I recommend it mostly for recipes that are suited to a certain nuttiness. The texture is great in both sauces and baking. I still use it for my husband’s favorite coconut cupcakes.
I hope this firsthand experience helps you to make your own decisions, but of course the decision of which to use and for what all comes down to your own taste and needs. Experiment with each one long enough and you’ll know what works best for you.