NUT MILK & OTHER NONDAIRY OPTIONS

 
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There was a time when I couldn’t say the phrase “nut milk” without laughing out loud, but over the past 10 years it’s been as easy on the ear for me as, say, orange juice, or buttered toast... or matcha latte! We might well think that nut milk or almond milk, which is the most well-known of them all, is a new invention, a trend, but like I’ll say a lot across this site, this trend is age-old. Sure, it’s had a resurgence and the hip cafés are serving many different variants. It’s steadily becoming standard throughout UK city coffee outlets to offer almond milk at the very least as a dairy alternative, but creating a creamy milk or “mylk” from grains, nuts and seeds is easy to do at home with a good blender. Plus fresh ingredients means no hidden extras to stop it separating or make it long-life, or make it easier for baristas to froth for coffee!

So, while plant milks may seem modern, there is actually a long history of them, not only in Ayurveda but also as a worldwide culinary tradition. In fact in Europe, in the middle ages, cookbooks and medical texts referred to almond milk a lot. One of the main purposes of having alternatives to dairy in Ayurvedic cooking is that, when it comes to good digestion and avoiding difficult food combos, using dairy milk with most other ingredients is typically a no-no, so a nut- or other plant-based milk is a great stand-in for a number of recipes. Plant milks are also much easier to digest than the original nut or seed that they came from — nuts, seeds and grains are tough and should be chewed properly! Read on to learn about a few of my favourite alternatives to dairy milk and how to make them, as well as a few notes below:

Kapha types beware:

Kapha types should avoid overdoing milks whether dairy or nondairy, as they tend to be sweet, cool, creamy, heavy and hydrating, all of which are Kapha qualities already. Almond milk and rice milk are OK in moderation if your mind-body type is predominantly Kapha, but make sure to serve them hot (and well simmered if it’s dairy milk) and add a pinch of turmeric or ginger to make it more easily digestible, whilst also giving the milk a more warming quality and stoking your digestion. If you’re feeling Kapha-aggravated, then it’s best to skip it until you’re feeling better.

Blend and strain:

Please note that for a super smooth milk you may want to strain the mixture but if you’re pouring over cereal or eating in chunky soups and smoothies then it’s not necessary at all and you can enjoy the natural fibre as part of your meal. When blending, treat your nut milk gently, especially if you have a super powerful blender — just like slow cooking, slow blending helps preserve the Prana (life force) of your food.

Flavour:

Additionally, dairy milk is naturally sweet and salty so to better mimic the flavour for drinking you’ll see that I have added jaggery and sea salt to most recipes. If you are making milk simply to add to a dish such as a curry there is no need to do this.

Quantities:

The below recipes make approximately 2 cups of milk. Why not have a go at all of them? It’s good to switch it up, especially if you eat a lot of one of the main ingredients already — so if almonds are your go-to snack, maybe try coconut or rice milk instead. Enjoy!


ALMOND MILK

Almond milk first appeared in English literature in 1390, but in India it has a much longer history than that, likely several thousands of years’ worth. Today in the West, this plant milk is gaining prominence, but it’s not only for your hot beverage! Almond milk is frequently used in Ayurvedic recipes and, as with most things, it’s best when homemade.

Why it’s good

In Ayurveda, almonds, and almond milk by extension, are seen as very nourishing and Sattvic — the “miracle nut” or “king of nuts.” They have many benefits, such as helping with memory, mood, skin conditions, muscular pain and more. They are also packed with protein and nutrients, and are rejuvenating and strength-building.

How to make it

It’s always best to make your own almond milk wherever possible, as many bottled versions contain chemical preservatives and other additives — and you lose many of the nutrients by not making it fresh. Here’s how to do it.

INGREDIENTS

  • 30 almonds, soaked overnight

  • 2 cups (450ml) water

  • 1 tsp jaggery, or to taste

  • Pinch of sea salt

METHOD

  1. Rinse and drain the almonds and squeeze or peel the outer skin off.

  2. Put the nuts in a powerful blender and add the water.

  3. Add the jaggery and salt, and blend until smooth. Strain the milk, if desired.

  4. Use immediately or keep in the fridge and consume within 3-4 days. Shake or stir before each use.

How to use it

Almond milk works great in my morning milks, like Golden Milk and masala chai, or you can try the following recipes:

RICE MILK

You can buy rice milk in most health-food shops, as well as some of the bigger supermarkets, but again: it’s better homemade. This plant milk is made from boiled rice (white basmati is preferable, but brown basmati can be used as well if soaked for 8 hours, rinsed and drained).

Why it’s good

Rice milk doesn’t contain as many nutrients or fats as nut milks, but is lovely and nourishing. It also helps pacify all three Doshas, so everyone can enjoy it from time to time. Brown rice, if well soaked and well cooked, is even better for Kapha types.

How to make it

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup (50g) white basmati rice, rinsed thoroughly

  • 2 ½ cups (620ml) water

  • 1 tsp jaggery, or to taste

  • tiny pinch of salt

METHOD

  1. Place the rice in a saucepan and add 100ml (generous 1/3 cup) water. Bring to the boil and then simmer until very overcooked.

  2. Transfer to a blender with another 250ml (1 cup) water and blend until as smooth as possible, before adding another 250ml (1 cup) water, plus the jaggery and salt. Blend again. Taste and add more jaggery and water if needed.

  3. Strain the milk, if desired.

  4. Use immediately or keep in the fridge and consume within 1-2 days. Shake or stir before each use.

East by West tip: If using brown basmati, remember to soak 8 hours or overnight, rinse and drain before cooking and cook with 150ml (⅔ cup) water. It will take much longer to cook than white rice — make sure it’s cooked until very soft!

How to use it

All the milks on this list work in morning milks, but here are a couple more recipes for your rice milk:

  • Coconut creams with vanilla chai plum compote (page 114 in East by West)

  • Celebration pistachio and saffron milk (page 216)


COCONUT MILK

Coconut milk, made from grated coconut meat, can be either very thick and creamy — delicious for curries and stews or whipped up to make frosting for cakes — or more drinkable (which is the coffee shop kind). It’s used in the tropical countries of Asia, Africa, America and the Caribbean to make a variety of delicious recipes.

Why it’s good

Coconut milk has cooling properties and a dash of sweetness — it’s great for balancing Pitta, but it’s also very sweet and creamy so not so good in large amounts for Kapha. Although fresh foods are always best and sourcing fresh coconuts in the West is difficult, tinned coconut milk is widely available, and so now too is the drinkable coconut milk. You can also make your own coconut milk from a bar of compressed or “creamed” coconut and dried or desiccated coconut.

How to make it

Making your own coconut milk is easy. There are a few ways to do it which I share in East by West the cookbook and you can find the desicated coconut method in this blog post.

How to use it

Stir it into curries, porridges and morning milks (see the first recipe section in East by West) or try some of these recipes:

HEMP MILK

Another great vegan option, hemp seed milk is full of nutrients and has a distinctive although not overpowering taste, earthy and a little sweet.

Why it’s good

Hemp seeds are highly nutritious and have a grounding effect. They are favoured in Ayurveda for benefiting heart health and promoting strength in the body. They are great for balancing Pitta and can also help Vata types with their digestion. That said, Kapha types may experience sluggishness if consuming hemp seeds or milk in excess.

How to make it

Here’s a method adapted from this website.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup raw shelled hemp seeds

  • 2 cups (500ml) water

  • 1 tbsp jaggery or maple syrup

  • Tiny pinch of sea salt

METHOD

  1. Blend all ingredients and strain if desired.

  2. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days. Shake or stir before each use.

How to use it

As a flavourful alternative to milk in hot beverages.


MACADAMIA or CASHEW NUT MILK

Macadamia and cashew nut milk is perfect for when you’re a bit tired of almond milk, but still want a lovely homemade nut milk. These nuts are much creamier and fattier and don’t have as much roughage and you can get away without straining them unless you want something super smooth. I don’t tend to make these types of milk often since they are both expensive and quite heavy, but they are a nice treat plus with just a two-hour soak needed and no need to strain, they are a very conveniently quick nut milk to make.

Why it’s good

Macadamia nuts can pacify. Pitta but aggravate Vata and Kapha because of their heavy and dry qualities. Cashew nuts are grounding and therefore pacifying for both Vata and Pitta, but again because of their high fat content are aggravating for Kapha types.

How to make it

INGREDIENTS

  • ⅔ cup raw macadamias or shelled cashews

  • 2 cups (500ml) filtered water

  • Jaggery to taste, optional

  • Tiny pinch of sea salt

METHOD

  1. Soak the nuts in a bowl with filtered water and a teaspoon of salt. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for 2 hours.

  2. Drain and rinse the nuts several times.

  3. Place the nuts, water and salt into a blender and pulse until creamy, about 1 minute.

  4. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Shake or stir before each use.

How to use it

As a flavourful alternative to milk in hot beverages or smoothies, or in place of coconut milk in curries.

SUNFLOWER SEED MILK

Pretty much any nut or seed can make a great plant-based milk, and sunflower seeds are no exception. Their particular taste can add a bit of extra oomph to your hot drinks and other recipes.

Why it’s good

Sunflower seeds are great for pacifying Vata, are good for Pitta in moderation, but aggravate Kapha because of their heavy nature. Sunflower seed milk is lovely and grounding, as well as providing magnesium, protein and vitamin E. If you’ve got a nut allergy it also makes a great ‘nutty’ substitute.

How to make it

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup raw unsalted sunflower seeds

  • 2 cups (500ml) water

  • Jaggery to taste, optional

METHOD

  1. Soak the sunflower seeds in water overnight.

  2. Drain and rinse the seeds.

  3. Blend the seeds with the water and jaggery if using until smooth.

  4. Strain using a cheesecloth or nut milk bag

  5. Store in the fridge for up to 4 days. Shake or stir before each use.

How to use it

As a flavourful alternative to milk in hot beverages or smoothies, or in place of coconut milk in curries. Try it with some added spices in my Ethiopian smoothie sunflower seed smoothie with rose water (suff) in East by West (page 40) for a refreshing drink.


OAT MILK

Yet another great option for people with nut allergies, oat milk has a lovely yet subtle sweet taste and works as an alternative to rice milk — as many coffee shops seem to have noted!

Why it’s good

Oat milk pacifies Vata and Pitta, but isn’t great for Kapha, because of its grounding, soothing effect. It is less sweet than rice milk, therefore making it a bit more balancing.

How to make it

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup (50g) rolled oats

  • 2 cups (500ml) water

  • 1 tsp jaggery, or to taste

  • tiny pinch of salt

METHOD

  1. Soak the oats for at least half an hour, then drain.

  2. Blend all the ingredients together.

  3. Strain using a cheesecloth or nut milk bag.

  4. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days. Shake or stir before each use.

How to use it

I love oat milk in my coffee — or should I say coffee alternatives? coffee alternatives. Also for Golden Milk or chai. I’ve yet to make a food recipe with it just yet but stay tuned!

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Jasmine Hemsley