I am a big aficionado of homemade plant milks. I’ve made my own almond milk for more than 6 years, my kids use it in their cereals and we incorporate it into many homemade recipes, such as smoothies, pancakes and crepes. I also make cashew milk, oat milk and hemp milk. The fun part about making plant-based milks is that I get to control the quality and quantity of ingredients, the flavors, the texture and the nutritional density. All it takes is the right ingredients, a high-speed blender and a nut milk bag.
On the other hand, making my own alternative milks is a labor-intensive manual process.
What do you do when you either don’t have the time to make your own milk or don’t have the equipment? When it comes to buying plant-based milk alternatives, not all store-bought brands are the same.
The Benefits of Better Than Milk: A High-Quality Store-Bought Option
Before learning how to make my own almond milk, I used to buy mainstream brands… At the time, I did not know that most major-label almond milks are mostly water, sugar, carrageenan, sunflower lecithin and natural flavors. Once I caught onto the reality that I was drinking flavored water for $4 a half gallon, switching to making my own milk was a revelation.
But homemade milk is not a viable option for everybody. Furthermore, even if it’s something that you like to do, it’s important to have a backup.
When a relatively new brand called Better Than Milk reached out to me, I jumped on the opportunity to sample their product line. Better Than Milk makes three types of plant-based milks: almond (sweetened and unsweetened), oat (unsweetened) and rice (unsweetened and sweetened with hazelnut). They are organic and made with spring water. These milks do not contain gluten, soy, sulfites, artificial flavors, carrageenan or cholesterol. Quite impressive.
The brand sent me two variety packs of 5 milk each, for review.
The team that runs this brand has definitely done its homework. Better Than Milk is organic, non-GMO, vegan and certified kosher (through the London Beis Din). It is also free of the following allergens:
Each milk tastes like the plant from which it is made. This is because there are no unnecessary additives or flavor enhancers. The almond milk tastes nutty and a bit sweet. The oat milk tastes like slightly sweet liquid oatmeal. The rice milk has a strong hint of steamed rice. The rice hazelnut combo is pleasantly sweet with a slightly bitter aftertaste and the most complex flavor profile of the bunch. This is due to the additional ingredients in it. This variety would go well in a milkshake.
All five milks are thin without sticking to your mouth. They are easy to pour and do not require much shaking. They were all smooth and slippery with no perceived graininess. The rice and oat milks have a slightly oily mouthcoating, in line with the sunflower and safflower oils in them. The oat milk is slightly creamy. By contrast, my homemade milks are more viscous, in part due to the dates that I use for sweetening and because of a slight bit of pulp remaining after I filter them.
To date, Better Than Milk is the only brand that I’ve come across that makes its milks with spring water. The water in their milks comes from a free-flowing stream in the Lessini Mountains in Northern Italy. Unlike filtered and purified water, spring water retains many of its natural minerals even after passing through a filtration process. Due to the presence of these essential minerals, spring water has a refreshing flavor that is very different from other types of water.
The packaging is eco-friendly: each TetraPak carton is made from recycled material, while the tops are made from sugar cane (as opposed to petroleum). Therefore, they do not need to be refrigerated before opening. On the flip side, once opened, they must be refrigerated and consumed within 5-7 days. There are no preservatives.
The Pros of Better Than Milk
All the (non-water) ingredients are organic certified.
All the milks use spring water instead of filtered water, resulting in a taste that reflects naturally occurring minerals.
The nutrient values reflect what’s in the actual almonds, oats and rice, without fortifying or enriching with vitamins and minerals.
The products come in a Tetrapak®, which makes them shelf stable (as opposed to many other brands that need to be refrigerated even before opening).
The seaweed listed in the rice milk is real seaweed (as opposed to carrageenan).
There are no preservatives.
Nutrition Facts Comparison
How does Better Than Milk compare with other top-tier brands, with homemade almond milk, with mass-market brands and with a comparable top-tier dairy milk?
Let’s do a nutrition facts comparison among the following products:
Homemade organic unsweetened almond milk
Better Than Milk organic unsweetened almond milk
Three Trees organic unsweetened almond milk
Maple Hill organic 2% fat milk
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze conventional unsweetened almond milk
|Macronutrient||Homemade Milk||Better Than Milk||Three Trees||Maple Hill (dairy)||Almond Breeze|
|Ingredients||Filtered water, organic almonds||Spring water, organic ground almonds, organic locust bean gum||Filtered water, organic almonds||Organic reduced fat milk, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3||Filtered water, almonds, calcium carbonate, sea salt, potassium citrate, sunflower lecithin, gellan gum, natural flavors, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin E|
|% of Nuts||20%||~10%||20%||N/A||2%|
My homemade almond milk is at least 20% almonds. Three Trees claims that its unsweetened almond milk is made of 20% almonds. Better Than Milk claims that its plant milks range from 5%-20%. Based on my own nutritional analysis, their almond milk appears to contain a respectable 10% nuts. By contrast, Almond Breeze appears to contain about 2% almonds. Once an almond milk product falls into the low single digit percentage of nuts, it is basically flavored water.
Calcium and Protein
Almond milk, whether store-bought or homemade, is not a good source of protein or calcium. This is in contrast to dairy milk, which contain a lot of calcium.
To get around this issue… other major brands fortify their milks with calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D2 and vitamin E to achieve high nutritional values. But I’ve noticed that the organic brands, like Better Than Milk…, and even other premium brands…, do not fortify.
I prefer brands that do not fortify. This is based both on studies that suggest that certain nutrients may not be as bioavailable when added artificially, as well as on the idea that if you eat a properly balance diet with enough real foods, you will not need the extra vitamins. Plus, fortified foods should not be a cure-all for a poor diet.
In terms of protein, my homemade almond milk contains roughly 6g of protein per serving, as compared with Better Than Milk (2g)… When it comes to almond milk, this is strictly a function of the amount of almonds in each serving.
Are Plant-Based Milks a Viable Dairy Replacement?
Before my readers get twisted into acrobatics over the nutritional values, I am going to make an interesting point here, using almond milk as the example:
You don’t drink almond milk for the presence of calcium and potassium, or for the lack of cholesterol.
You drink almond milk for any combination of these four reasons:
You cannot tolerate dairy milk, due to lactose intolerance or dairy protein allergy
You take an ethical position around compassion for animals, a stance against the meat industry, or a statement against the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industries
You are concerned about the perceived health risks, such as saturated fat, traces of pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones in conventional dairy milk
You love the taste and the experience of almond milk
Almond milk should not be thought of as a replacement for the vitamins and minerals present in dairy milk. The same goes for other plant-based dairy alternatives.
You also don’t need to buy into the story that dairy milk is the one and only source of calcium in our diets. It certainly is not. You can easily make up the difference in dietary calcium by eating many other calcium-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables (curly kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, chard, beet leaves), okra, black-eyed peas and fish with edible bones (like sardines and canned salmon).
So the discussion really comes down to which milk is tastier and more enjoyable.
On that note, I have to say that the Better Than Milk products are superior to all the others that I have tasted. They rank in 2nd place after my own homemade plant-based milks. And it is these that my kids ask for when our homemade milk runs out.
When choosing non-dairy milk alternatives, it’s always a good idea to read the nutrition facts panel to compare ingredients. Plant-based milks often contain thickeners, emulsifiers and preservatives, such as gellan gum, carrageenan and locust bean gum. They also tend to be fortified with lots of synthetic vitamins and minerals to mimic the nutritional profile of dairy milk. Despite its logical premise, fortification may be problematic for the human body. Added sugar is also prominent. When choosing your plant milk, always choose the unsweetened version with the fewest ingredients and the least fortification.
What Can You Make with Better Than Milk Products?
Better Than Milk’s products are super versatile. Here is just a sampling of culinary ways in which you can use them:
How Much Does Better Than Milk Cost?
Better Than Milk prices its products at $5.99/carton. Each carton is 33.8 fl oz, which is roughly a quart. This is within the range of… premium brands. (Pricing is from Whole Foods Market.) By comparison, … 2% dairy milk is $5.99 for a half-gallon (which comes out to about $3 per quart). So you are definitely paying a premium for almond milk, although it is priced in line with other similar plant-based brands of comparable quality.