Got alt-milk? Why people are switching to plant-based milk.

Posted on 07/10/2021 by Charlotte Regan
in the Animals in farming blog

According to recent research, one in three of us in the UK now drink plant-based milk making it a mainstream choice for millions of consumers. But what is plant-based milk and why are so many people making the switch from cow’s milk? 

What is plant-based milk? 

Plant-based milk can be made from nuts, seeds, cereals or legumes and is usually made by soaking in water, grinding into a purée and then straining the fibre from the liquid. Alternative milks provide a great solution for those looking to limit animal products in their diet and reduce their impact on the environment. And far from being niche, the alternative milk market in the UK is now worth nearly £400m a year. 

Alternative milk options

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Why do people switch to a plant-based milk? 

Many people stop consuming cow’s milk because of the poor treatment of dairy cows on factory farms where cows are pushed to their physical limits to produce as much milk as possible. Although cows need to be outside on grass in order to live good lives and express their natural behaviours, dairy farms in the UK are increasingly switching to zero grazing factory farm systems, keeping cows indoors all year round. Denying cows the opportunity for outside grazing can lead to higher risk of lameness and painful udder infections, while the overcrowded conditions in many intensive farms causes cows anxiety and aggression.  

Milk production also has a negative impact on the environment. Cows produce various greenhouse gases, releasing methane, nitrous oxide and CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing towards climate change. Dairy farms also use huge volumes of fresh water, while poor handling of manure and fertilisers can pollute local water sources. While the UK dairy industry is taking steps to reduce its environmental impact, a recent University of Oxford scientific study, found that global production of dairy milk has a carbon footprint three times higher than that of any plant milk, as well as using more land and more water.  


Which plant-based milk to choose! 

If you’re thinking of making the switch to plant-based milk, the first thing you might be surprised at is how many different ones there are to choose from! Each has its own unique taste and each brand has its own nutrient profile so you may need to do a little experimenting to find the right one for you.  

Here’s a run-down of the most popular plant-based milks to choose from: 

  • Oat: Oat milk was the most popular plant-based milk in the UK in 2020. It has a mild, oaty flavour and a creamy texture. Oat milk tends to foam better than other alternative milks, which makes it a great choice for hot drinks. 
  • Almond: Made from blended almonds, almond milk is sweeter than dairy milk with a mild nutty flavour. It is also a good source of vitamin E and a good low-fat alternative to dairy.  
  • Hazelnut: Hazelnut milk has a creamy texture and a luxurious finish, making it perfect for hot chocolate, but you can enjoy it guilt free knowing it is packed with antioxidants. 
  • Soy: The original plant-based milk - soy milk was the first plant-based milk product to offer a similar nutritional value to cow’s milk and is a great source of protein.  
  • Cashew: Smooth and silky, cashew milk provides a creamy dairy alternative. 
  • Pea: Fear not, pea milk isn’t green! It’s made from yellow split peas rather than garden peas and has a light, sweet taste. Pea milk is high in fibre, low in saturated fat and has a high protein content.  
  • Rice: Rice milk is lightweight and versatile and offers a more neutral taste than either oat or nut milks.  

Alternative milks can be used for hot drinks, cooking, baking, smoothies, cereal – and anything else you’d use cow’s milk for. And for all coffee afficionados, it’s worth noting that a lot of plant-based brands now have special barista editions which have been specially designed to mix perfectly with coffee. 

Plant-based dairy alternatives don’t just stop at milk either. You can buy dairy-free versions of almost anything – butter, cheese, yogurts, cream – whatever you need, making it easier than ever to give cows a break and cut down on dairy.   

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