Soy milk is growing in popularity as a beverage. In some homes it is even replacing dairy milk both as a beverage and as an ingredient in cooking. This may be due to allergies, a desire to avoid all animal products in the diet, or for some other reason. It should be noted, however, that soy is not the only possible substitute for that carton of pasteurized cow's milk. Rice, oats, various nuts, and even potatoes are all qualified candidates.
These milks may look like the skim, 2% or homogenized milk so commonly found in the dairy section of your local grocery store, but they are not, of course, the nutritional equivalent of that milk, nor do they taste exactly the same. There is nothing wrong with that. They are simply different. Whether they are better or worse depends upon what you expect from these various choices.
Some of the Options
Fresh, Pasteurized Cow's Milk: Nutritionally rich, this milk is a prime source of Vitamin D, and well as calcium and a number of other minerals. It is also high in protein and often fortified with Vitamin A, and some Vitamin C. Carbohydrates are present in all forms of cow milk, although fat content will vary depending upon the type of milk chosen. Skim milk, of course, contains the least with a calorie content of approximately 90 calories per cup compared to 130 for 2%. Dairy milk is the basis for most yogurts and drinks such as egg nog. With a shelf life of one and a half to two weeks and requiring refrigeration, in its liquid form it is not suitable for long term food storage.
Powdered Milk: Powdered milk is made from fresh milk which has been pasteurized, evaporated and then spray dried. Generally, skim milk is used, as fat content tends to lower shelf life. Skim milk powder has a storage life of about 18 months (or longer if properly packaged). There is little nutritional loss from the fresh product, but taste may be affected. Refrigeration of the un-reconstituted milk is not required, but high relative humidity and high ambient temperatures while in storage can degrade nutritional values
Instant Milk: Although similar in appearance to powdered milk, and costing a little more, instant milk is produced using a freeze drying or crystallization process. Nutrients are preserved, and many consider the taste to be superior. It also is easier to mix than the powdered variety.
Soy Milk: This is the most common substitute for dairy milk. Easily produced at home, especially with use of a soy milk maker, soy milk is, indeed, a healthy alternative. It has almost as much protein as its dairy counterpart, less fat, and no cholesterol. Soy milk does have a lower mineral content than cow's milk, but, on the other hand, it provides additional heart protection with phytochemicals, which are found in abundance in soy milk, whereas dairy milk lacks these helpful chemicals.
Soy milk can easily substitute for cow's milk as a beverage, in recipes of all sorts, and in many other ways. It can even be used to produce a nice, creamy home made yogurt. Althugh not normally quite as thick as dairy yougurt, it can be thickened through the use of agar powder, corn starch or arrowroot. If using corn starch, which is readily available, mix 2 tsp. of starch in 30 ml. of cold water and add the mixture to the soymilk just before boiling.
As has been said, the flavor is different, so a little experimenting might be in order. Some, for instance, suggest adding a touch of vanilla flavoring to soymilk when using it on cereal. Soy beans have an 18 month shelf life, so home made soy milk is a good candidate for your long term, food storage program.
Rice Milk: Although it can be found in some stores, it is less common than soy milk. Fortunately, it too can be produced at home.
Compared with cow's milk, rice milk contains more carbohydrates, but no cholesterol or lactose. Neither does it contain significant amounts of calcium or protein. You will have to assure that you are getting enough of these two important nutrients in other ways. Rice milk is not as thick as dairy milk or soy milk, and seems to have a bit of a translucent quality. It is naturally sweet, making it great for dessert recipes, but less useful where that sweetness is not needed or wanted. Consequently, some people like it on cereal while others don't - simply a matter of personal preference. Rice milk can be used in the production of home made yogurt, but the end result is very runny, making it more of a yogurt drink than a food you would spoon from a bowl or cup.
Oat Milk: Oat milk like rice milk is a grain milk, and has similar nutritional qualities. It lacks the pronounced sweetness, however, and some suggest the addition of honey as a sweetener in order to increase its palatability, although not everyone would agree that this is needed. The lack of extra sweetness does, however, make it a better candidate for use in soups and sauces and other recipes where a sugary taste is not wanted. Described as light in texture with a very mild flavor, many agree that it substitutes very well for low-fat or fat-free milk.
Oat milk is lactose free, a great benefit to those who are lactose intolerant, but it does contain gluten, a fact that needs to be noted by those who have a gluten sensitivity. Oat milk is a good source of dietary fiber.
Potato Milk:Said to duplicate the texture of dairy milk, and to come amazingly close to it in taste, potato milk is increasingly being recommended for those placed on a wheat-free, dairy free diet. Potatoes, being one of the most tolerated foods (meaning very few people have allergies or intolerances to it), makes potato milk an ideal candidate for such uses. Many have tried it in smoothies, on cereal, and for baking with generally positive results. Potato milk does have a high carbohydrate content, but it also has a high potassium content as well as containing plenty of other vitamins and minerals.
You can make your own, but, unfortunately, potatoes do not have the shelf life of soy beans, nuts, and rice or other grains, so when it comes to long term food storage programs, potato milk has some deficencies in that regard.
Nut Milks: There is no lactose in nut milk, but it may contain other allergens, so care needs to be taken by those who might be affected. Many, though, find it very digestible and appreciate its high protein content.
Nut milk has a creamy consistency which is very comparable to soy milk. The nutty taste makes it a very interesting, and some would say "delectable" addition to fruit smoothies and other creamy desserts and drinks. It may not be as useful in non-savory dishes, although, once again, personal preference will come into play. Many report using it in general cooking quite successfully. It can also be used in the making of yogurt, although, yet again the end result is more of a yogurt drink than a creamy yogurt that needs to be spooned from its container.