It's a question that you guys often ask: will your coffee machine work with anything other than cow's milk? And, by extension, what's the best non dairy milk for frothing?
It’s a question that you guys often ask: will your coffee machine work with anything other than cow’s milk? And, by extension, what’s the best non dairy milk for frothing?
Then there’s the nagging suspicion that plant milks might even froth better than moo juice. And if so, how do their flavors work with coffee?
So many questions. The solution? A guide, of course. Although, I must say that when it comes to frothing milk substitutes we tend to overthink things.
With a few exceptions, most plant milks froth up beautifully. Getting a nice head of foam can be just as straightforward with oat milk as it is with almond and rice milk. As for how it’ll taste, that’s a little more subjective.
In this guide to the best non dairy milk for frothing, we’ll take a close look at all the most popular products out there. I’ll also get into some good reasons for making the switch away from dairy. Oh, and I promise not to get too scientific and preachy!
Table of Contents
Milk 101: What's the Secret to Milk Froth?
Whether you’re using a super-automatic coffee machine, an espresso machine or a handheld frother, three things have to come together to create froth: fat, protein and steam.
Water vapor blows apart the molecular structure of the proteins and fats and reconstructs them again with the help of air. A better ratio between the three components gives you creamier, more stable and fluffier milk foam.
Proteins are the main deciding factor in foam. The more, the better. Fat, on the other hand, contributes mainly to the mouthfeel and creaminess.
That’s why it just doesn’t get any better than full fat cow’s milk. Here, the fat is an ideal flavor carrier and makes for a beautifully creamy texture. At the same time, proteins in the milk keep the foam stable, while the naturally occurring sugars are caramelized.
The resulting milk foam is sweet and delicious, and works to enhance the flavors and aromas of coffee.
Why Choose Non-Dairy Milk?
Okay, so we’ve established that whole milk not only works best for stable milk froth, but also tastes great with coffee. So why in the heck would we want to choose anything else for a cappuccino or espresso macchiato?
For starters, dairy products don’t exactly sit well with everyone. Lactose intolerance is no joke, and it doesn’t seem fair that you’d have to forgo the joy of a latte macchiato because of it. Sure, there’s the lactose-free milk option, but the inherent sweetness involved can be a little too much. Plus, lactose-free milk isn’t exactly cheap, to say the least.
Another solid reason for switching to plant-based alternatives is the environmental impact of large-scale dairy production.
The fact of the matter is that measured in resource consumption of almost any kind, the majority of plant alternatives are far superior to cow’s milk. And oat milk stands head and shoulders above most other non-dairy alternatives on all fronts except its carbon emissions. This ProVeg International report on the subject, for example, has infographics illustrating the fact.
Best Non Dairy Milk for Frothing: So Many Options!
Before we start looking at our candidates for the best non dairy milk for frothing, I should come back to something I mentioned earlier.
While most of us can agree that steamed milk tastes sweet and delicious, non dairy milks tend to be a bit more divisive. For example, a beautifully frothed soy milk flat white might taste like heaven to some folks, while others won’t be able to choke it down.
As we’ll see, there are other issues to take into consideration, too. Some non dairy options foam up like crazy, but only with the right combination of additives. What’s more, it’s not just dairy farming that can have negative environmental impacts.
Soy milk has long been seen as the best non dairy milk for frothing. It froths like mad and produces a very stable foam. And it’s no wonder, considering it has a protein content that almost matches that of cow’s milk.
That said, frothed soy milk often consists of “macro” rather than microbubbles and almost always has a very distinctive flavor. What’s more, soy comes with problems of its own.
Those who suffer from hay fever or neurodermatitis know that soy can trigger cross-reactivity. And then there’s the medical question of how soy affects the body’s hormonal balance, which comes up time and again.
As I’m sure you already know, soy milk is a particularly competitive market. There are countless manufacturers vying for your attention.
In my experience, Pacific Foods Barista Series creates the best and tastiest milk froth. However, that sweet, pillowy foam comes at a cost – there’s added sugar in there as well as additives and stabilizers galore.
A healthier option is Silk Unsweetened Organic Soy which uses gellan gum as a stabilizer, rather than the controversial carrageenan found in Pacific Foods soy milk.
For purists, I’d recommend either Westsoy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk or Unsweetened Edensoy, both of which comprise organic soybeans, purified water and nothing else. However, bear in mind that you’ll have a harder time creating stable froth with these two.
I’m sure you’ve heard about Oatly Barista Edition. Every supermarket, coffee expo and billboard (or so it seems) is blaring the plant milk’s promises of barista results for all the world to see.
I love the brand’s message (“Milk, but made for humans”) and also think oats deserve their place in the spotlight as an inexpensive crop with a comparatively small environmental footprint. However, it’s getting kind of hard to get hold of this product right now.
A good alternative is Califia Farms Barista Blend, which is widely available on Amazon. In fact, it’s pretty much exactly the same as Oatly’s product in that it solves the fundamental problem of how to create stable oat milk foam. So how is this possible?
Cue the additives.
For this oat milk to work its magic, each carton has its share of various regulators and stabilizers. Vegetable oil is thrown into the mix (hello, calories!) along with vitamins. Just as a reminder, “unadulterated,” homemade oat milk is made with just water, oats and sea salt. That’s it.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this. Why would I want to buy a product that compensates for a milk substitute’s natural downsides by any means possible?
On the upside, oats – as the key ingredient – are an environmentally sound choice and the results are spectacular.
Apart from that, I don’t like the decidedly unsubtle taste of oat milk – barista edition or not. The oatiness distorts and overpowers coffee’s more floral and lively accents, while further thrusting dark notes into the foreground. In my experience, oat milk makes a lot of good coffee beans seem harsh and abrasive.
Almond milk froth is not only stable and creamy but also adds a real exclamation mark to coffee aromas.
Above all, assertively acidic coffees really shine with almond milk froth because it makes them even brighter, sweeter and delicate. No prizes for guessing that almond milk is my favorite.
Plus, almonds are not currently known to cause any health problems. As an added bonus, unsweetened milk products are definitely a “skinny” option with a mere 22 kilocalories or so per serving.
But the sad truth is that the beautiful stable froth you get with almond milk from cartons is also largely thanks to stabilizers (Have you noticed a non-dairy theme yet?). And different brands can vary wildly.
You’ll get truly convincing foam from Silk Barista Collection almond milk, but you’ll also get your share of added sugar, stabilizers and flavors. The same goes for another popular option, Pacific Foods organic almond milk, minus the sugar.
In other words, you’ll have to try out a few almond milk brands for frothing to find the best option.
At this point I should stop ignoring the elephant in the corner. We have to confront the question of whether it’s really such a good idea to plug this nut drink at all. After all, there’s a major problem:
Nearly all of the almonds sipped as frothed milk or munched in meals come from California. It’s a water-intensive crop grown as a monoculture. And there’s the awful industrial exploitation of bees required to pollinate all the orchards.
There’s no sugarcoating it, the facts are pretty terrible. Almond milk does the environment no favors. What you do with that information, is up to you.
Rice milk is the non dairy beverage least suited to frothing and foaming. Whatever brand you choose will contain significantly less than one percent protein with a very large proportion of carbohydrates and not enough fat.
Not even stabilizers can save the day. Rice milk is simply too different in composition to moo juice. That’s a real shame, seeing as rice milk is free of gluten, nuts and soy. Not only that, it’s the least hypoallergenic of all the options out there.
Plus, rice milk has a pleasantly sweet flavor profile that really goes well with coffee. For that reason, I recommend creating a blend of rice milk and a non dairy beverage that foams well. I think you’ll get some pretty outstanding results.
As for which product to buy? Rice Dream has got the market pretty much sewn up, so start there!
Listen, I’ve got nothing against hemp milk. As it happens, I’ve really tried to like the stuff. Still, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t get past that seedy, vegetal taste.
With that said, hemp milk is getting more popular all the time, so plenty of folks must enjoy its questionable flavor profile. Plus, hemp milk actually foams up really nicely. And, once frothed, it holds its texture well enough to create a little latte art.
The only times I’ve been able to at least partially enjoy a hemp cappuccino was when I used Pacific Foods Original Hemp, but that’s probably because it’s sweetened with brown rice syrup. However, most true hemp milk lovers will prefer the unsweetened version from the same manufacturer.
Coconut milk is naturally very fatty and has a lovely thick texture that’s similar to cow’s milk. All that fat means you’re able to create some beautiful froth with coconut milk, too.
There are different options available, including conventional, canned and raw versions. Still, whichever type of coconut milk you choose, your cortado coffee is going to taste like coconut.
Don’t get me wrong, that could be totally delicious, it’s just that your espresso is going to be completely overwhelmed. Again, I’d say your best bet is to blend coconut milk with something else. Rice milk springs to mind!
You might be tempted by a “best selling” option like Pacific Foods Organic Coconut Plant-Based Beverage. However, be warned that coconut isn’t even the first in a long list of ingredients.
In my opinion, you’re better off with Aroy-D, which is made from 100 percent coconut and nothing else. That said, this unadulterated product won’t last more than a couple of days in the fridge.
I’ve yet to sample or work with pea milk, but I keep hearing great things. In fact, a growing number of people believe pea milk to be the best non dairy milk for frothing. Apparently you can create really delicious, stable and creamy milk foam. So, could pea milk be the holy grail of milk substitutes?
Like soy milk, this beverage has a ton of protein, so things look good. Plus, pea milk is about as sustainable and environmentally friendly as it gets. After all, peas require almost 10 times less water for cultivation than almonds, and need less land than soy beans or oats.
Incidentally, like Oatly, Sproud is a Swedish company. Turns out these Scandinavians are determined to steer us away from the cow! And yes, the pun was very much intended.
A shiny new milk alternative hits supermarket shelves almost every day. In addition to store stalwarts coconut and rice milk, I’m spotting more and more nut milks at the moment. A while back, I even tried hazelnut milk.
All these variants have at least one of two problems: They are unsuitable for frothing and/or have a strong flavor of their own. When I paired my coffee with hazelnut milk, for example, let’s just say the coffee came off second best.
With that said, I’ve heard great things about a new kid on the block – macadamia milk. From everything I’ve read, macadamia milk is pretty fantastic for frothing. Not only that, the taste is naturally sweet and somewhat reminiscent of “cereal milk.”
Sounds intriguing, right? You might have a hard time finding macadamia milk in your local supermarket, but it’s readily available on Amazon. Currently, Milkadamia appears to be the brand leader, and is available unsweetened or sweetened.
Best Ways to Froth Non-Dairy Milk
Now that we’ve got a clearer idea of the myriad non dairy options, it should be easy to identify the best way to froth right? No such luck, I’m afraid. As we’ve seen, each type of non dairy milk reacts differently, so what works well for soy milk might end in disaster with coconut milk.
With that said, it’d be remiss of me not to discuss a few of the best ways to froth non dairy milk. Plus, I can give you a few tips and things to look out for along the way.
Verdict: The Best Non-Dairy Milk for Frothing
If you’re expecting me to give a decisive verdict on the best non dairy milk for frothing, you might be a little disappointed. It all comes back to that pesky subjective thing again.
However, one thing is clear: there are tons of non dairy options that froth up like a dream. And we all like having options, right? You might have to compromise on taste or consistency, but a dairy-free future that includes latte art is very possible!
What’s the best non dairy milk for frothing in your opinion? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? I look forward to your comments!