If we're going to get technical, milk alternatives have actually been around since the 13th century. The first recorded mention of almond milk appears in an old Baghdadi cookbook from 1226 called the "Kitab al-Tabikh." Soy milk followed about 100 years later.
That was only the beginning. Now, you can walk into just about any supermarket and leave with milk derived from rice, hemp, macadamia nuts, cashew nuts and even peas. But there's one particular milk alternative that is currently in the spotlight; a milk that managed to carve a niche by tapping into the public's rapidly evolving tastes. We're talking about oat milk.
While you've probably seen oat milk brands like Oatly, Califa Farms and Chobani, their oat milks have only recently taken the world by storm. So what's behind oat milk's incredible popularity? It seems it can be credited to a few things: taste, nutrition and sustainability.
Oat Milk Taste and Nutrition
When it comes to calories, oat milk is actually on par with whole milk; one cup of unsweetened oat milk has around 120 calories versus one cup of cow milk, which has about 150 calories (skim milk has about 90 calories). Along with vitamins A, D and B12, oat milk has twice the carbs of cow's milk, but half the protein and fat.
Taste-wise, there's a pretty noticeable difference compared to cow's milk. Some have described Oatly as "pleasantly thick, SUPER creamy and just the right amount of sweet" while others have denounced oat milk as "garbage."
Taste preferences aside, oat milk is hot and only getting hotter. Blame it on the declining dairy industry or our increasingly adventurous palates, but oat milk sales increased a whopping 289 percent from March to June in 2020, according to Business Insider. In January 2020, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts added oat milk to their menus, and Trader Joe's now sells oat milk ice cream. And big names like Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman and American business owner and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz were part of a group of investors who recently bought a $200 million stake in Oatly, the Swedish oat milk company, in June 2020. None of that hurts.
The Sustainability Factor
While making oat milk may not be as simple as reaching under a cow and squeezing her udders, the only other ingredient that most companies use in creating this naturally vegan milk is water. The BBC said that makes it one of the most environmentally friendly options of all plant-based milks because it produces few greenhouse gases and needs little water to produce.
"Oat milk can be a better-for-you alternative to dairy. It caters to a variety of specialty diets such as gluten-free and vegan," says Heba Mahmoud, VP of marketing at Elmhurst 1925, which makes a variety of plant-based milks. "We pride ourselves on not using added gums, oils or emulsifiers in our oat milk. It has just three simple ingredients: oats, water and a pinch of salt."
Elmhurst uses a unique process called the HydroRelease method that separates the nut, grain or seed before reassembling them into a creamy emulsion, maintaining the full nutrition of the source ingredient without added gums or emulsifiers.
Making Oat Milk at Home
You can make your own oat milk at home. It's pretty simple and all you need is a blender and a few ingredients.
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1-2 tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- Combine 4 cups of water with 1 cup of rolled oats in a blender.
- Add 1 or 2 tbsp. of maple syrup, 1 tsp. of vanilla extract and pinch of salt.
- Blend for 1 minute or completely smooth. Be sure not to overblend or your milk will become slimy.
- Strain liquid through a piece of cheesecloth or organic cotton nut milk bag into a jar.
- Store in the freezer for up to five days.