Here’s one thing that’s much harder to find in stores these days: alternative milks. Oat milk sales, for example, recently increased more than 350 percent when coffee shop regulars, separate from their baristas, started making their beers at home.
This is the good news: you don’t need milk from supermarkets. I’ve been experimenting around the pantry during quarantine, and a happy discovery I’ve made is that plant-based milks like soy, almond, or oat milk are easy to make. And they can help you reduce your personal carbon footprint.
The production of dairy products, including milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, accounts for almost 4 percent of global warming emissions, worldwide each year. Soy, almond, and oat milk have a much lower carbon footprint overall than cow’s milk, and use less water. (Yes, even almond milk, which has received a lot of bad press during California’s droughts.)
“As consumers, we should be able to determine which milks are more and less sustainable so that we can make informed decisions,” said Joseph Poore, a researcher at The Queen’s College School of Geography and Environment, Oxford.
If you want to venture into making alternative milk at home, follow this guide. They are all made in the same way, and do not require any sophisticated equipment.
First, soak a cup of soy, almonds, or oatmeal in plenty of water overnight. Soybeans, especially, will grow two to three times in volume, so be sure to do this in a large bowl.
In the morning, use a strainer to drain the water and rinse the soy, almonds, or oats. This is especially important if you use oatmeal, to prevent milk from becoming slimy and glutinous.
Then put your soy, almonds, or oatmeal in a blender, along with three cups of water, and mix for about two minutes. A complete mix will maximize the amount of milk you can express. (You can experiment with the amount of water: I’ve made oat milk with 1.5 cups and 3 cups of water. The one-and-a-half-cup version is much richer and tastier and probably better if you add it to coffee, but it left very quickly) .
Then pour the mixture into clean cheesecloth, a dedicated “walnut milk bag” makes this part really easy and prevents any spillage, and squeeze the milk out. And I mean squeeze and squeeze, until the last drops come out.
Then, if you use soy or almonds, gently heat the milk, but stop before it boils. That’s a common practice in Japan, because people there tend not to eat raw nuts. But it would not heat oat milk, which can easily become slimy.
You can add a little sugar or maple syrup to any of the milks, to taste. It should be kept in the refrigerator, covered, for about five days.
You’ll have some pulp left when you’re done. I use it for baking. I’ve been making these vegan soy donuts (albeit in bun form, because I don’t have a donut tray) and they have been wonderful. When I was growing up in Japan, my mother also fried soybean pulp, which we call okara, with vegetables. It was delicious.
A couple of notes on the environmental footprint of alternative milks: soybean cultivation, especially, is a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. But most of that Amazon soybean is exported to Asia and Europe as livestock feed, increasing the footprint of animal products.
And yes, it will use water to produce milk, displacing the water and emissions associated with production from a factory to your home, possibly with some loss of economies of scale.
The last thing to remember: dairy contains nutrients, such as calcium and protein, that are important for bone and muscle health. So, take a look at your general diet if you’re going to limit or avoid dairy products, to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients from other foods.