There are many health-related and ethical reasons to avoid cow’s milk—veganism, lactose intolerance, a desire to avoid hormones and antibiotics, to name a few. But finding a reliable substitute can be overwhelming, because store shelves are packed with nondairy milk choices. Plenty sampled three dozen products to find the tastiest. And while none is a perfect swap for moo juice, many have considerable nutritional benefits in their own right. “These beverages can play an important dietary role, especially the soy,” says Roger Clemens, PhD, of the Institute of Food Technologists. Here’s the cream of the crop.

Best vanilla
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Vanilla
Tastes less like almonds than vanilla, but the two flavors combine well. Organic? No

Best grain milk
Pacific Foods Organic Oat Low-Fat Vanilla
The tasty flavor balances the graininess often found in nondairy beverages. And we appreciated the mess-free, twist-off top. Organic? Yes

Best for coffee 
Rice Dream Supreme Vanilla Hazelnut
The sugary taste makes this a perfect swap for your usual nondairy creamer. 
Organic? No.


Best chocolate
Good Karma Organic Ricemilk Chocolate
A richer, more natural flavor makes this the closest you’ll get to Hershey’s syrup in a glass. Organic? Yes.

Best blend
EdenBlend Rice & Soy
This combo mixes the health benefits of soy with rice’s mellow taste. Organic? Yes.

Best soy milk 
Silk Plain
It has a pleasing nutty flavor and enough fat to give it body and versatility. Organic? Yes

Best skim milk alternative
Soy Dream Enriched Orignal
The light body and mild flavor are a good swap for nonfat milk. Organic? Yes.

Drink to your health 

If you’re looking for a substitute for the nutritional role dairy plays in your diet, choose your nondairy alternative wisely. All but one of our top picks have at least 20 percent of the recommended daily amount of calcium and 25 percent of the suggested vitamin D per 8-ounce serving (whole milk has 30 percent and 25 percent, respectively). And while our favorites are lower in fat than whole milk, the nut and grain milks came up short on protein, ranging from one to 7 grams per serving versus milk’s 7 grams. Many grain milks contain folic acid, magnesium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12, but they may also be loaded with sugar. And just because a product is made from oats or almonds, don’t assume it provides the same health benefits as the whole food. “When you process these foods into beverages, it’s not quite the same as eating the foods themselves,” says Clemens. For example, research finds that oat fiber lowers cholesterol, but a glass of oat milk has less than half the fiber of a bowl of oatmeal. 

Story by Eileen Gunn. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in January 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008