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Exploring the Wild World of Milk Alternatives

A single container of cow’s milk stands, somewhat awkwardly, alone. Why? Because cow’s-milk consumption in this country has plummeted—7 percent in 2015, an 11 percent further drop expected by 2020—and I’m about to taste my way through the wild and woolly world of alternatives. Almond milk may be the lait du moment, having seen sales in this country rise 250 percent from 2012 to 2015. But I have assembled soy, rice, cashew, coconut, macadamia, and pea. I have convened camel, sheep, horse, and goat. Everyone perches on stools and regards the first sample: store-bought soy. We’ve decided to rate each as one would wine, by appearance, aroma, and taste. I’ve added a column for nutritional content. From our notes the soy is “milky, creamy, a little brown, with likable viscosity, not too leggy.” It smells “nice, lightly sweet.” The taste: “a little sweet, a little vegetal. Like food.” The homemade version brings to mind a wonderful healing broth—and I momentarily wonder why we ever milked anything but soy. Almond milks—six different ones—are next. I immediately wish for a spittoon. One, blended with pistachios and hazelnuts, from an Italian company called Mand’Or, includes 23 grams of sugar per serving—more than half a can of Coke. The Blue Diamond brand almond milk (which I bought unthinkingly for my twelve dairy-free months of nursing) is “grayish,” “smelly,” and “tastes like salty wastewater.” Quinoa milk is muddy, thin, and reminiscent of the liquid left in the pot after cooking quinoa. Tiger nut—not a nut but a little sedge tuber—is very sweet and very beige, with tiny particles floating throughout and a faint savor of rubber. Flax milk (“pearly white,” “appropriately thick”) is tasteless. 

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