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Nut Milk

Vegan Coffee Break? Yes please!

If the idea of giving up dairy for a plant-based, vegan nut milk in your coffee or tea is something you’re struggling with, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. Just know, you can do it, says Gently Vegan’s Shonagh Walker.

I found it hard to get over the hurdle at first. I just adored lashings of full cream organic cow’s milk in my English Breakfast Tea each morning and my after-lunch latte was always made using the same. But as much as I thought I loved the taste, it bothered me that the animals weren’t living as nature had intended, even if they were raised organically.

I mean, is it ethically right to keep an animal pregnant its entire life just so we can drink its milk? It doesn’t sit well with me. And really, why was I drinking a substance that nature designed purely and simply to make baby cows fat? It made no sense to me whatsoever, so I switched to plant-based milks and these days, the taste of dairy milk is something I can’t bear.

My personal go-to is GMO-free, organic soy, but I also love a good, creamy almond milk, like the ones that have just been released by Califia Farms. Occasionally, I switch to coconut milk and I hear rice milk is great for cooking (something I don’t do enough of), as are the aforementioned coconut, soy and almond varieties. Anyway, I’m no expert, so I grilled a top naturopath on the nutritional value of particular plant milks and then turned to two of Australia’s leading baristas for their expert advice on which milk you should choose to enhance the beverage you’re about to drink.

Almond Milk

“Make sure you buy it unsweetened,” is the first thing naturopath Karina Francois, from Infinite Health Practice in Berwick, Victoria tells me, “especially if you’re using it for cooking, or you like to add a dollop of sweetener to your tea or coffee.”

“It already has a sweet nutty flavour and if you buy a good quality brand, it’s very creamy. Always warm it if you’re using it in hot drinks, or it may curdle.”

GV Founder Catherine Carr agrees “Unsweetened almond milk is my preferred option in most recipes, I often use it in place of coconut milk in savoury recipes such as Cashe Satay Cups.

Depending on the brand, one cup of almond milk, according to Karina, typically contains 90calories or 377 kilojoules, 2.5 grams of unsaturated fats and zero cholesterol, which we love. That sweet nutty cup also contains one gram of protein, and a nice amount of vitamins A, D, B12, as well as minerals phosphorous, potassium, zinc and calcium.

From a barista’s perspective, “not all almond milk is created equal,” says Barista Nicole Pollock, co-owner of Café Sandringham in Melbourne. “There are only a couple of products that steam and stretch well and that you can even make latte art with, and Califia Farms’ Barista Blend and the Unsweetened Almond Milk are two of them. Given this, it is suitable for all barista-made hot drinks that use milk. That includes lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites; and hot chocolate, chai tea drinks and turmeric lattes.”

“Almond Milk brings out the roasted, nutty flavour of the bean,” adds Paolo Gatto, pastry chef, barista and owner of Pari Pasticceria in Concord, Sydney, who actually makes his own almond milk on site, using any excess water and almond meal in his pastries to ensure there is no wastage. “The flavour of the nut against the bean works beautifully. It gives you a slightly nutty flavour but it’s still coffee. I love to use almond milk in a latte and a hot chocolate and I also get a lot of requests for it in a cappuccino and a flat white, too.”

Soy Milk

“A great alternative for those transitioning from cow’s milk as the flavour is similar, but only slightly nuttier, soy milk is fantastic in hot drinks, smoothies and savoury dishes,” says Karina. “Again, don’t use it in warm drinks straight from the fridge, or it can curdle and looks dreadful!

Use it at room temperature or warm it up a little first.” Nutritionally, you’re doing quite well here, too. Karina tells us there are 100 calories, or 418 kilojoules on one cup of soy milk, eight grams of carbohydrates, seven grams of protein and only 1.2 grams of sugar. “It also has .5mg of riboflavin, an important antioxidant required in energy production. Add to that 299mg calcium, 119IUD of vitamin D and 4 grams of unsaturated fat and it makes for a great dairy alternative.”

According to Paolo, you can’t beat it for teaming with coffee beans, especially the brand he favours – Vittoria. “It makes sense to put a bean-based milk with a bean-based brew,” he says passionately. “They blend so well together. I prefer to use it for making a cappuccino or latte. It doesn’t have as much fat as cow’s milk, so it doesn’t froth as much, but it still produces a fantastic drink.” And on a personal note – I think it mixes beautifully with any black tea of your choice!

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is naturally sweet and creamy, and it is made by grating the ‘meat’ of coconut and mixing it with water. The upside here, says Karina, is that it is very high in fibre.

The downside? “It can be calorie dense, so be mindful of this if you are watching your calorie intake.”

The low-down is that one cup has 550 calories or 2301kilojoules. “It has saturated fat called lauric acid, which is actually good for you as it increases HDLs and lessons the chances of heart disease,” says Francois.

“It also has vitamin B, Vitamin K, C, E, Magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium and zinc.” Karina suggests using it in smoothies as well as cooking. “It’s great in soups, the making of elixirs, porridge, as a yoghurt, frozen… you can really use it anywhere you would use dairy milk.”

Paolo loves a long, cold glass of coconut on its own in summer, or warmed into a mug of hot milk in colder weather, but says it’s also amazing for those who like to add a little milk to a long black. “Serve it with a nice dry biscotti – beautiful!”

Rice Milk

The experts are unanimous on this one – save rice milk for cooking. “It’s very watery and not great for coffee, although I do like a bit in my English Breakfast Tea,” says Karina.

“It has a very sweet flavour and is better in sweet recipes. It’s made from brown rice and water and can be sweetened with cane syrup. It usually has canola oil which isn’t the best for our health.”

The upside is, it’s low in calories, with only 120calories per cup (or 502 kilojoules) and 2.4 grams of unsaturated fat. There is also 1 gram of protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar and 100mg sodium, with some presence of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin B12. Paolo’s view? Rice milk is no good for coffee – it can curdle and is best avoided in a hot beverage.

All experts agree on one thing – look for the best quality product you can in any plant-based milk. “These milks are still processed,” says Paolo, “so don’t skimp on price and sacrifice quality. It’s worth paying a few cents more to get the best taste and health benefits.

Beauty and Lifestyle Director Shonagh Walker

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