Plant-based milks are a popular alternative to dairy, boosted by a growing awareness of the environmental and animal welfare implications of dairy farming. One popular alternative is oat milk. In the past year, annual sales increased by just over 50 percent to reach $527.44 million. So how does this dairy alternative stack up to the others?
What Is Oat Milk?
Whether made at home or bought in a store, oat milk is simply milk made from oats. For commercial products, the manufacturing process involves combining rolled oats with water, hydrolyzing the mixture to break down the starch content of the oats and filtering it to produce milk. The process for making oat milk at home also involves blending the oats with water, and then straining the mixture twice to produce your milk.
Oat milk is animal-free and also lactose-free. Whether you’re interested in plant-based milks for nutritional or ethical reasons, oat milk can be a great alternative to cow’s milk.
How To Make Oat Milk
Oat milk is made from oats and water. Store-bought oat milk will likely also contain added vitamins and minerals.
The first step is to blend the oats and the water with a high speed hand blender or food processor. Different recipes suggest different amounts of time. Some recommend only blending for 30-45 seconds to avoid making the milk slimy, while others suggest blending for 2-4 minutes. If you’re going to be adding any flavorings such as sea salt or vanilla extract, this is the stage to do it at. You can experiment to figure out your own preference.
The next step is to strain your mixture, and there are a few different ways you can do this.
One way is by using a nut milk bag. These are designed specifically for making milk at home, though they may let too much of the pulp through from some consumers. Another option is a fine mesh sieve, but these can also let through some of the pulp. Some recommend straining with a thin towel, because it gives you a milk mixture with much less starch and a less slimy texture.
Most recipes recommend that you strain your oat milk twice. This helps prevent excess starch in your milk, which can lead to that slimy rather than creamy texture. This is particularly important if you’ve used a looser strainer. Once you’ve done this you don’t need the pulp anymore, but to reduce waste, have a look at some recipes that use oat pulp.
Once your oat milk is ready, pour it into an airtight container and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to use it. Your milk can be stored like this for a few days.
How Long Does Oat Milk Last?
The general consensus is that homemade oat milk can last around 4-5 days, while store bought can last from a week to ten days. If you leave your milk for longer than this you might notice a slight change in color, it might go thick or clumpy, or it might start to smell sour. These are all signs that your milk has started to turn bad.
How To Use Oat Milk
Oat milk can be used in all the same ways that dairy milk can. You can drink it on its own, bake with it or pour it over cereal, for instance. Oat milk is also one of the most popular options for using in teas and coffees because of its thick and creamy texture.
Is Oat Milk Good For You?
Nutritionally, oat milk is a very healthy alternative to traditional whole milk. It’s lower in saturated fats and higher in fiber.
Oat Milk Nutrition
The specific nutritional profile of oat milk varies depending on whether it has been made at home or bought. Commercial brands of oat milk also vary in the additives that they include. Keep in mind also that nutritional needs vary depending on what you’re using the milk for — pancakes versus drinking straight, for instance.
In terms of its calorie count, 100 grams of unsweetened oat milk contains around 48 calories, which is similar to low-fat cow’s milk that rings in around 43 calories per 100 grams. The calorie content of oat milk is mainly due to its high carbohydrate content, but selecting a brand without any additional ingredients added to sweeten the milk can help keep this to a minimum.
Oat milk also has lower saturated fat than whole dairy milk. Specific values vary between brands, but one cup of Califia Farms oat milk, for example, contains 0.5 grams of saturated fat, whereas one cup of whole milk would contain around 4.6 grams.
Oat milk also has less protein than dairy milk, though amounts vary depending on the brand and recipe. Many oat milks have around 3 grams of protein per cup, whereas dairy milk can have around twice that amount. Keep in mind though that most Americans eat double the recommend amount for protein.
On the other hand, oat milk has more fiber than whole milk. One cup of Califia Farms oat milk contains 2 grams of fiber, whereas whole milk contains no fiber. Fiber is mostly thought of as just being related to digestion, but it has many other health benefits. The fiber found in oats is soluble fiber, which has been associated with slowing digestion, helping to control blood glucose levels, decreasing cholesterol and lowering the risk of developing heart disease.
Is Oat Milk Gluten Free?
Although oats do not contain gluten as a grain, the process used for farming and producing oats means that the majority are cross-contaminated with gluten. This unfortunately means that most oat milks cannot be considered gluten-free.
Is Oat Milk Better for You Than Milk?
Oat milk has many nutritional advantages over traditional milk, including its lower sugar content, lower saturated fat content and higher fiber content. Fortified unsweetened soy milk is a better match for dairy’s protein content.
Is Oat Milk Healthier Than Almond Milk?
The nutritional profiles of oat milk and almond milk depend on which brands of each you are comparing, but there are some key differences between the two. One of these is their sugar content. Whereas almond milk contains no natural sugars, one cup of oat milk contains around 19 grams of sugar. Almond milk also contains less calories than oat milk, contains less carbohydrates and has a lower total fat content. Where oat milk is healthier than almond milk, however, is in its high fiber content and higher protein content.
What Are the Benefits of Oat Milk?
There are many people for whom traditional cows milk isn’t suitable, whether that’s because they have an allergy or intolerance, they’re looking for a generally healthier option, they care about the plight of dairy cows or they want to stop the disastrous environmental impacts of regular milk. For these people, oat milk is a great alternative, but it can also be enjoyed by anyone looking for a break from dairy products.
Because producing oat milk does not involve animals, it can be considered vegan. Along with most other plant-based milks, oat milk is often a popular choice for consumers looking to decrease their consumption of animal products.
Free From Lactose, Soy and Nuts
Naturally free from lactose, soy and nuts, oat milk can be a great alternative for some with intolerances or allergies who may not be able to drink other types of plant-based milk. However, it’s important to be aware that the manufacturing methods used to produce oat milk and products containing oat milk could potentially involve cross-contamination with one of these allergens.
Many store-bought oat milks are fortified with B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is an essential part of the human diet that is found in meat and dairy products. For those on a vegan diet it is recommended that they take a vitamin B12 supplement, as it is difficult to obtain enough from only eating foods fortified with it.
Oat milk can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels because of the beta glucans contained in oats. Beta glucans are thought to help lower cholesterol levels by preventing the reabsorption of bile acids in the small intestine, meaning that bile acids have to be synthesized from cholesterol, lowering LDL cholesterol levels.
Sufficient levels of calcium in the body are essential for bone health, because it is the major component of bones and required for maintaining their strength and structure. In order to properly absorb calcium, however, we also need a sufficient level of vitamin D. Most store-bought milks are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to help make sure plant-based consumers aren’t missing out on these essential nutrients.
Are There Dangers of Drinking Oat Milk?
Unless you have an allergy or intolerance to oats, the only danger from consuming oat milk would arise from assuming it contains a particular nutrient that you might have been getting from cow’s milk. Vitamin B12 is an example of one such nutrient, and although the majority of oat milk products will be fortified with it, it is currently recommended that those on a plant-based or vegan diet take a B12 supplement to ensure they are consuming enough.
What You Can Do
Switching from dairy to oat milk is one way to help reduce consumption of animals and the environmental impact of your diet. For more information, see our Take Action page.