The Other Moos

Madhulika Dash

Nutritious, wholesome and calcium-rich, a primer of the non-dairy alternatives, and what to consider before picking the next pack.

Not so long ago, milk was thought to be the richest source of calcium – and a must-have for every healthy diet. They made bones stronger!

No longer, thanks to a series of studies and the ever-expanding range of calcium-packed dairy alternatives, it is clear that non-dairy alternatives as just as wholesome –  and comes with the added bonus of no Saturated Fat worry or Casein allergy fear!

The reason for this is that most non-dairy alternatives are plant based, so are low on fat and protein – especially the allergy causing whey kinds. While that makes them perfect antidote for lactose intolerant and vegan recipe followers, it also becomes a good alternative to those looking to give up milk from their diet – without actually giving up on the taste.

So what makes these other moos, an effective substitute? Here’s a cue to begin with:

Soy Milk

soy milk

Long before the world fell to the rich pleasure of creamy milk, soy milk was the way to live. Popularised by the Chinese traders, who saw it as a filling, nutritious travel food, on the Silk Road, Soy Milk made a comeback in the food scene first around the 80s – and then a few years earlier in tetra packs with flavours.

Rich with a chalky taste and texture, Soy Milk is a protein powerhouse and trumps that in milk at 11 grams with just 4 gram of fat and 7 gram of sugar. The issue is perhaps the slight aftertaste, but as brands have shown, it is a small niggle that can be masked well with additional flavourings, coffee being one of the most effective.  Often fortified with calcium, vitamins A and D and riboflavin, Soy Milk is known to lower heart disease, and is recommended for infants who have developed milk allergies – not intolerance!

Coconut Milk

coconut milk

One of the oldest non-dairy product known to the food world, Coconut Milk has been in use since ancient times – both as a beverage and as an ingredient in cooking (Daab Chingri and Thai Curry, anyone?).  In fact, way before butter was introduced; Coconut Milk was the go-to ingredient to make any dish look, taste and smell richer. Health-wise, while this dairy alternative is relatively higher in saturated fat at about 5grams with low calcium and protein as compared to milk, calorie-wise  it is still a winner at 70cals a cup. Its rich, smooth with a fragrant aftertaste, which makes it ideal for almost all Indian desserts, savoury main courses and of course a good digestive (Sol Kadi).

Almond Milk

Almond Milk

Called amygdalate after the Greek word αμυγδαλή, almond milk was a favourite drink (and an antidote) in ancient times, with cooks in Roman and Egyptian kitchen using it because of its longer shelf life. It is said that King Tut took jars filled with almonds for his after-life journey, and Cleopatra, an otherwise wine drinker, would always prefer to have her morning brew during court hours, as it kept her awake – and satiated. Closer home, Almond Milk was a favourite of NurJahan, who used it as a welcome drink peppered with rose and slivers of pistachio. In fact, old ledgers talk about the use of almond in various forms like cheese, butter and even oil!

Nutrition-wise,  this mild, smooth, low calorie smooth alternative to milk isn’t a great source of protein,  vitamins and fatty acids, which are added to the milk while processing. But the one place where Almond Milk shines is Vitamin E. One cup of Almond Milk provides with 50% of the daily requirement!

As a substitute, the mild taste and rich, creamy texture makes Almond Milk the best alternative to dairy – as you can add it without the necessity to masque any aftertaste or strong flavours. In fact, almond milk is great way to add the richness to smoothies and dessert – and is often better alternative to heavy cream for certain dishes (Korma, anyone?).

Cashew Milk

Cashew Milk

Long before the world awakened to the beauty of cashew nuts and its product (fenny, one of them), Indian cooks had harvested the rich nut to give their home cuisine the rich indulgence. According to old culinary hands, it was a preferred substitute to cream and milk, and was the secret ingredient behind the interesting flavour profiles of most of Awadhi dishes.  

It works pretty much on the similar lines as Almond Milk, albeit is much creamier to taste. One cup of freshly-made cashew milk made using 1/4 cup of cashews and water has 189 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrates and 15 grams of fat per serving. Given its mild nutty flavour (almost indecipherable at times), Cashew Milk is a preferred substitute for full cream milk – it not only lends a dish that indulgent value, it does so without changing the taste. So essentially you can have your non-dairy alternative, and still feel the pleasures afforded by milk.  

Rice Milk

rice milk

It is said that the Rice Milk (which on fermentation becomes the tribal drink Handia) in its freshest form was the preferred drink over water for Kalinga Sailors, who ruled the early days of Silk Route to India – and also part of what today forms the South East Asia. The milk, which was made by mashing overcooked rice with water,  was tasteless and watery – but could sustain the body to the vagaries of sea travelling.  And while health-wise, Rice Milk doesn’t fit the bill of calcium- and protein-rich alternative or as milk substitute in beverages, it works well as a replacement for butter/cooking soda for certain dishes – like mashed potato, Mac n Cheese, Cakes and of course thickening the curry.

At relatively less fat and free from soy, gluten and nuts, it is ideal for people with milk allergy – though only after fortification!

Goat Milk

rice milk_1

Long before cows were domesticated for their milk, sheep and goats were preferred animals to pet – and not just in hilly areas. Goats were abundantly found and played the dual role of being the milk and the meat provider. High on fat content, they made for good cheese, luscious buttermilk (of which Chha Gosht is made) and rich butter – ingredients used for cooking back then.  

But that was not the only thing that made Sheep/Goat Milk popular, it was also its health properties. Known to be immunity builders, Sheep/Goat Milk upped the calcium game with 33 gram as oppose to 28 grams in milk, and 11 gram of sugar, which is less than that in cow’s milk. A rich source of Vitamin C (5%), protein (9%) and potassium at 14 percent among other minerals, Sheep/Goat is an ideal substitute, whose breast milk-alike chemical structure makes it perfect for those with lactose intolerant or milk allergy. However, the biggest drawback for the milk is the watery texture and the after taste, which makes its byproducts, especially buttermilk, a better option.

Caution: Since Goat milk is less in sugar, buying a low-fat version means, its extra sugar added!

Camel Milk

rice milk_2

Once called the sustenance drink of merchants and wanderers, Camel Milk was first discovered by the Arabs, who trained camels for travelling long distance. It is said that camels were a preferred mode of transport for merchants not only because it could go long miles without food or water but also be trained to sniff out dangers (read: thugs and sandstorm) from a safe distance. What doesn’t find mention in most ledgers is one more special ingredient that sustained life on these treacherous roads: Camel Milk. A nutrient powerhouse and one of the most prized possession of the nomads, even today. The reason for this is that camels only lactate on giving birth, which lasts anywhere between 10 months to a year. Sweeter than the cow’s milk, Camel Milk is a great source of iron and vitamin C along with effective anti-inflammatory properties that make it good for people with diabetes and others. It’s light and hence easier to digest. The only issue with Camel Milk is that it has had unpasteurized, which possess the problem of being easily contaminated.

Food-wise, this thicker, slightly sour milk can be substituted in exact proportion to the cow’s milk. Of course what needs acclimatisation is the smell and the slight aftertaste.