What do we Need to Know About Plant Milk?

Plant-based milks have been rising in popularity in recent years, with a wide variety of non-dairy alternatives now available on the market – soya, almond, oat, rice, pea, coconut, hemp, cashew, to name a few. There are many reasons why individuals opt for these non-dairy alternatives, whether it be due to allergies, intolerances, following a vegan diet or for ethical reasons. But how do these compare to cow’s milk? And what key nutritional components should we be looking out for when choosing a plant-based milk alternative?

Cow’s milk and dairy products are a rich source of a number of nutrients important in a healthy balanced diet, including protein, calcium, iodine and vitamin B12. The majority of plant-based milks are lower in protein than cow’s milk, however soya milk has a high protein content, and there are a number of non-dairy products available with added protein.

Although dairy is known for being calcium-rich, the majority of non-dairy milk alternatives are fortified with calcium – meaning that calcium is added to these products. Even better, the level of calcium added to plant-based milks often equals or exceeds the quantities of calcium found in cow’s milk. Although these milk alternatives have high levels of calcium, it is also important to consider whether how easily our bodies are able to absorb this calcium, known as it’s bioavailability. The more bioavailable the calcium, the more we our bodies can absorb. More research is needed to determine the bioavailability of calcium in non-dairy milks (1), however some studies suggest that the bioavailability of calcium in plant-based milks are lower than that in cow’s milk (2). If you’re concerned about the bioavailability of calcium from non-dairy milks, opt for a product that is also fortified with vitamin D. When vitamin D is consumed at the same time as calcium, it’s able to boost the absorption of calcium in our bodies (3).

Due to legislation in the UK, most organic products will not be fortified with any additional nutrients, so it’s important to take this into consideration when selecting milk alternatives to ensure you are meeting a healthy balanced diet.

Milk and dairy products are the main source of iodine in the UK diet, followed by fish and eggs. Hence, if you are excluding dairy from your diet, it is important to ensure you are obtaining iodine from other sources, particularly if you are following a vegan diet that also excludes fish and eggs. Iodine is less commonly fortified in plant-based milks so it’s important to check the labels to see if your favourite milk alternatives are fortified with iodine. As mentioned before, if a product is organic, it won’t be fortified with iodine. Some common brands that do fortify with iodine are Oatly and Mighty Pea. The Innocent brand of plant-based milks don’t specifically fortify with iodine, however they use seaweed to fortify their products with calcium, and seaweed naturally contains high levels of iodine!

Cow’s milk is also a great source of vitamin B12. If you are consuming other animal-based products, then you probably don’t need to worry about whether you’re meeting your requirements of vitamin B12. However, if you’re following a vegan diet that omits all animal products, it’s more important that you look for plant-based milk products that are fortified with vitamin B12. If following a vegan diet that excludes all animal-derived products, you should aim to consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, however if your favourite products aren’t fortified, a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.

The nutrient profile of different plant-based milks will vary, so it’s important to always read the food labels when purchasing milk alternatives. If a product is fortified with different nutrients, these will often be listed in the ingredients list and may also be included in the back of pack nutrition tables.

My top tips for selecting a plant-based milk are:
1.     Always read the labels! Keep an eye out for products fortified with calcium, iodine and vitamin B12. Fortification with vitamin D is a bonus!
2.     Organic doesn’t always mean better – remember that most organic products won’t be fortified.
3.     Opt for unsweetened where you can. Many plant-based milks will be sweetened, meaning that they’re higher in added sugars compared to dairy milk.

References

1.     Singhal S, Baker RD, Baker SS. A Comparison of the Nutritional Value of Cow’s Milk and Nondairy Beverages. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2017;64(5): 799-805. Available from: doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001380.
2.     Buzinaro EF, Alves de Almeida RN, Mazeto GMFS. Bioavailability of Dietary Calcium. Brazilian Archives of Endocrinology & Metabology. 2006;50(5): 852-862. Available from: doi: 10.1590/S0004-27302006000500005.
3.     British Dietetic Association. Calcium: Food Fact Sheet. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/calcium.html [Accessed 29th January 2022].

Vegan Ferrero Rochers

INGREDIENTS (Makes 12 truffles) 

  • 180g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 80ml vegan cream (Alpro or Oatly) 
  • 90g smooth almond butter 
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup 
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • Pinch of sea salt 
  • 12 whole hazelnuts, plus 60g hazelnuts for the coating, chopped
  • 1 tsp coconut oil

METHOD 

  1. Melt 80g of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of water (don’t let the bowl touch the water) on a low heat. 
  2. Add the vegan cream, almond butter, maple syrup, vanilla and pinch of salt and mix well until all combined into one smooth mixture. 
  3. Place this mixture in the freezer for a few hours until it hardens, or leave it in the fridge overnight. 
  4. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the hardened mixture and roll into a ball using your hands. 
  5. Place one whole hazelnut into the middle of the ball and roll in your hands again to make sure it’s completely covered. 
  6. Roll each truffle on a plate of finely chopped hazelnuts until it’s completely coated.
  7. Repeat until the mixture is finished and then place the truffles in the freezer for 15 minutes 
  8. Meanwhile, melt the other 100g of chocolate with the coconut oil (over a pan of water or in the microwave on a low heat), to use for the chocolate shell. 
  9. Remove the truffles from the freezer and use a toothpick or skewer to dip each ball into the melted chocolate. 
  10. Leave on a wire rack with a tray underneath to catch any chocolate drips until the chocolate has hardened. 
  11. Store in a sealed container in the fridge and enjoy!

Vegan Mince Pies

INGREDIENTS (Makes 12) 

  • 225g plain flour 
  • ¼ tsp salt 
  • 65g dairy free butter 
  • 60g coconut oil 
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar, plus extra for dusting 
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp dairy free milk 
  • 1 jar of mincemeat (411g) 

METHOD 

  1. Mix together the flour and the salt in a medium bowl. Add in the dairy free butter and coconut oil in cubes/chunks and rub them in with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. 
  2. Mix in 1 tbsp of icing sugar and 1 tbsp of the dairy free milk and bring the dough together. 
  3. Knead the dough briefly in the bowl then cover and chill in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.
  4. Lightly dust your surface with flour and roll out your dough until it’s only a few millimeters thick. Cut out 12 circles (using an 8cm cutter) and place them in a greased tin. 
  5. Spoon 1 heaped tsp of mincemeat into each pastry case. 
  6. Reroll the remaining dough and cut out 12 more (slightly smaller) shapes of your choosing for the pastry lids then place these on top. 
  7. Mix together 1 tbsp of maple syrup and the remaining 1 tbsp of dairy free milk and use this to glaze the pastry. 
  8. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Leave them to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes before removing them and letting them cool completely on a wire rack.

White Chocolate Cranberry Bread

INGREDIENTS 

  • 280g plain flour 
  • 1 ½ tsp of baking powder 
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 
  • ¼ tsp salt 
  • 115 g thick yoghurt (or dairy free version) 
  • 2 tbsp oil 
  • 155g caster sugar 
  • 120 mL milk of choice 
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 100g cranberries
  • 140g white chocolate, chopped

METHOD 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C and line a loaf tin. Soak the cranberries in enough boiling water to cover them. 
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the yoghurt, oil and sugar together until it’s fully combined before adding in the milk and vanilla. Mix this well. 
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the same bowl and gently fold it into the wet ingredients using a spatula until just combined. The batter should be thick. 
  4. Finally, drain the cranberries and fold them into the batter along with almost all of the white chocolate (save some to sprinkle on top) 
  5. Pour the batter into a lined loaf tin, sprinkle with the remaining white chocolate and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Cover the loaf with foil and bake for a further 5 minutes before removing from the oven. Make sure a toothpick comes out clean. 
  6. Leave to cool before slicing. 

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies

These brownies are a slightly healthier alternative but still fudgy and delicious! They’re also vegan AND gluten free. 

INGREDIENTS (Makes 9) 

  • 100g chocolate (save 50g to fold in at the end) 
  • 35g smooth peanut butter 
  • 45g oats 
  • 15g cocoa powder 
  • 1 tsp baking powder 
  • ¼ tsp salt 
  • 1 tin black beans, drained and rinsed 
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence 
  • 170 ml maple syrup 
  • 40g hazelnuts, chopped 

METHOD 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and line a small baking tin with baking paper 
  2. Melt together 50g of the chocolate and all of the peanut butter together in a microwave 
  3. In a high speed blender or a food processor, blend together the oats, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt until the oats turn into a fine powder 
  4. Add in the beans, vanilla, maple syrup and the chocolate peanut butter mixture
  5. Once the mixture is smooth, chop the leftover 50g of chocolate into chunks and fold those in 
  6. Transfer the batter into the lined baking dish and bake in the oven for 18 minutes
  7. Leave to cool before slicing into squares

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies

The perfect indulgent chocolatey treat!

INGREDIENTS (Makes 14 cookies) 

For the salted caramel: 

  • 200mL single cream (or alpro non-dairy single cream) 
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 20g butter (or non-dairy alternative) 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • ½ tsp sea salt

For the cookies:

  • 200g butter (or non-dairy alternative) 
  • 180g light brown sugar 
  • 60g granulated sugar 
  • 1 egg (or 2 tbsp flax + 2 tbsp water)
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 240g plain flour 
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder 
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt 
  • 100g dark chocolate chunks or chips

 

METHOD 

  1. To make the caramel: add the single cream and sugar to a saucepan, mix and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down a simmer for 15 minutes until the mixture thickens and reduces slightly. Switch the heat off and add the butter, vanilla and salt. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool. Once cool, freeze the caramel into 14 discs on a tray (about 2 tsps each), or use an ice tray for 2-3 hours. 
  2. For the cookies: Beat together the butter and sugar for 3-5 minutes in a stand mixer until pale and fluffy. Add in the egg/flax egg and vanilla and beat for a further minute. 
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. 
  4. With the mixer on a slow speed, slowly add in the dry ingredients until just combined. Don’t overmix! 
  5. Fold in the chocolate chunks (reserve a few for topping)
  6. Using an ice cream scoop, portion out 14 balls of cookie dough onto a lined baking tray. Remove the hardened caramel from the freezer. 
  7. Take a ball of cookie dough and make a well in the middle with your thumb for the caramel. Place the caramel inside and tuck the sides over so all the caramel is covered. Stud with a few extra chocolate chips. Repeat for the rest of the cookies. 
  8. Place the filled cookie dough balls into the fridge for 30 minutes and preheat your oven to 170 degrees C. 
  9. Bake the cookies for 13 minutes and then try and leave to cool completely before tucking in. 

 

Tempeh Bolognese

Packed full of protein, this tempeh bolognese is the perfect topping to pasta, rice or jacket potatoes! 

INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)

  • 1 red onion, diced 
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced 
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and diced
  • 300g mushrooms, chopped
  • 250g tempeh, cut into small cubes or crumbled
  • 600g tinned tomatoes (1½ cans)
  • 25g fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt & Pepper 
  • 1 tsp marmite 
  • 2 tsp soy sauce 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

METHOD 

  1. In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp of oil and cook the onion and garlic for a few minutes. 
  2. Add in the carrots and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook for a further 5-7 minutes 
  3. Meanwhile, add the other tbsp of oil to a medium sized pan and cook the tempeh over a medium heat. Add the soy sauce to the tempeh for flavour and cook until browned. 
  4. Reduce the heat on the vegetable mixture and add the cooked tempeh to this, along with the tinned tomatoes and marmite. 
  5. Simmer for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes have slightly reduced. 
  6. Stir in the fresh, chopped basil (set aside some for garnish) and taste for salt and pepper. 
  7. Serve with your carbohydrate of choice and enjoy!

Carrot Cake Muffins

INGREDIENTS (Makes 12) 

  • 180g wholewheat flour 
  • ¾ tsp baking powder 
  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda 
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon 
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg 
  • ¼ tsp salt 
  • 120g carrots, finely grated (about 2 medium carrots) 
  • 120ml milk of choice 
  • 135g maple syrup 
  • 85g apple sauce (about 1 apple’s worth)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Optional add-ins:

  • 50g raisins 
  • A few handful of chopped nuts 
  • Shredded coconut 

Icing: 

  • 60g icing sugar 
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese (or vegan alternative) 
  • ½ tsp vanilla

METHOD 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and line a muffin tin with muffin cases 
  2. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl 
  3. In a separate larger bowl, whisk together all of the wet ingredients. 
  4. Add the dry flour mixture into the wet and mix until just combined. Don’t overmix! 
  5. Fold in any extras (nuts, raisins etc.) 
  6. Dollop even amounts of mixture into the liners and then bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. 
  7. Meanwhile, mix together the ingredients for the icing until smooth 
  8. Leave the muffins to cool and then top with icing if desired

 

Blackberry Breakfast Cookies

INGREDIENTS (Makes 10) 

  • 55g coconut oil 
  • 170g honey or agave 
  • 1 egg or flax egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence 
  • 65g whole wheat flour 
  • 2 tsp baking powder 
  • ½ tsp cinnamon 
  • ¼ tsp salt 
  • 180g rolled oats 
  • 115g fresh blackberries 

METHOD 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C 
  2. Whisk the coconut oil, honey, egg and vanilla in a medium sized bowl 
  3. Add in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sold and mix with a spatula until combined 
  4. Add the oats and mix well before folding in the blackberries 
  5. Use a ¼ cup or ice cream scoop to portion mounds of the dough onto a lined baking tray 
  6. Flatten the cookies out slightly as they will not spread 
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the edges are nice and golden 
  8. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes before tucking in 
  9. Store in a sealed container either on the counter or in the fridge if you want them to last a bit longer