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Originally published by Ching Yuen. Last updated by Jianne Soriano.
Non-dairy milk alternatives have been gaining popularity over the last few years. It doesn’t matter if you’re allergic to milk proteins, are lactose- or gluten-intolerant, or simply don’t like the taste of dairy; if you’ve never tried drinking “milked” nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains, there’s a whole new world out there waiting for you to explore! Here’s a useful guide for new and old members of the alternative milk community and what’s available in Hong Kong for you to add to your dairy-free diet. Milk it for what it’s worth!
Soy, the OG of non-dairy milk, has played an important role in Asian diets for thousands of years, with the first written record dating back to AD 82. Suitable for people with lactose, milk protein, or gluten intolerance, soy milk is made with either soybeans or soy protein isolate, and often contains thickeners and vegetable oils to improve taste and consistency.
This milk substitute is also a great source of protein and essential fatty acids. In terms of nutrition, soy milk is a close substitute for cow’s milk. It contains a similar amount of protein, but around half the amount of calories, fats, and carbohydrates. For thrifty non-dairy drinkers, soy milk is also the most affordable option—and the easiest one to find in Hong Kong supermarkets. Some options include Kikkoman Japanese soy milk ($19) on HKTV Mall, Alpro soya milk ($98) from Gustaci Food Gallery, Kowloon Dairy fresh rich soy milk ($14.90) from ParknShop, and Marusan plain soy milk ($30) at City’Super.
Oat milk is another good milk alternative that has come especially popular in the last few years, as it has neither lactose nor milk protein. Essentially, it is made from a mixture of oats and water. To this simple base, manufacturers often add extra ingredients—like gums, oils, and salt—to produce a more desirable taste and texture.
Oat milk contains a similar count of calories to cow’s milk, up to double the number of carbohydrates, and about half the amount of protein and fat. Interestingly, oat milk is high in total fibre and beta-glucan—which sounds complicated but is simply the name of a gel in your gut. Beta-glucan gel binds to cholesterol, reducing its absorption in the body. It helps lower cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol, which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Since the cereal grain is high in fibre, it also fills you up quickly!
Milk from coconuts? Yup, and it’s not new to the market, either. Coconut milk is a naturally sweet dairy-free option, made from a mix of coconut meat and a whole load of magnesium, iron, and potassium. It also contains lauric acid, a rare medium-chain fatty acid that is easily absorbed by the body and used for energy. FYI: the liquid inside coconuts is called coconut water, so coconut milk and coconut water are two different things.
Coconut milk has the lowest protein and carbohydrate content of non-dairy milks, best suited for those looking to reduce their carb intake. What’s more, around 90 percent of the calories from coconut milk come from saturated fat, including a type of saturated fat known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Some research suggests that MCTs may help reduce appetite, assist with weight loss, and improve blood cholesterol levels more than other fats. HKTV mall stocks Rude Health organic gluten-free coconut drink ($44.90).
Almond milk, a mixture of finely ground almonds or almond butter with water, is a particularly good alternative to cow’s milk for those with a serious dairy allergy. It is almost completely free of allergens and contains neither lactose, soy proteins, nor gluten. To boost, almond milk has anti-inflammatory properties and may be easier to digest than dairy milk. Of course, a lot of these benefits are reserved for organic, unsweetened almond milk, so make sure you don’t grab that extra sugar option!
Almond milk stands out as one of the lowest-calorie non-dairy milk available and is a great option for those seeking to lower the number of calories they’re consuming. Additionally, almond milk is a natural source of vitamin E, a group of antioxidants that help protect the body from disease-causing substances, such as free radicals. Whatever that may be, it doesn’t sound like something you would want in your body!
Almond milk can be found in almost any major supermarket chain in Hong Kong, with Blue Diamond almond breeze ($33.90) available at ParknShop and New Barn unsweetened organic almond milk ($194.40 for a pack of six) available at Slowood.
Known to have an even nuttier flavour than almond milk, hazelnut milk is another option that’s more on the exclusive end of non-dairy alternatives. However, it’s easy to add to your diet—imagine liquified Nutella, but less chocolatey. A good source of vitamins B1, B2, and B6—all essential in blood formation and mental health—hazelnuts are also rich in antioxidant vitamin E, which promotes healthy hair and skin, whilst preventing anaemia, cancer, and heart disease. Ubuy stocks Elmhurst Milked hazelnut milk ($463 for six cartons) and Slowood stocks Plenish organic hazelnut milk ($56).
Cashew milk is made from a mixture of cashew nuts or cashew butter and water. It is rich and creamy and has a sweet and subtle nutty flavour. It’s great for thickening smoothies, as a creamer in coffee and as a substitute for cow’s milk in desserts. The low calorie, carbohydrate and sugar content also makes it a suitable option for people who need to monitor their carb and calorie intakes, such as people with diabetes. And guess what? It is also one of the easiest milk to make at home! Find Rude Health organic gluten-free cashew drink ($19.90) on HKTV Mall.
Macadamia milk is made mostly of water and about three percent macadamia nuts. It’s fairly new to the market, and most brands are made in Australia using local macadamias. It is a great source of healthy, monounsaturated fats. Increasing your intake of monounsaturated fats may help reduce blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, especially if it replaces some saturated fat or carbohydrates in your diet. Try your luck on HKTV Mall for Milkadamia macadamia milk ($48).
A top pick, if you’re looking to boost your intake of plant-based omega-3s, would be walnut milk. It tastes more earthy than other milks and packs three grams of plant-based protein for 120 calories. Use it in tea or coffee to shake up your morning routine, or in smoothies to balance out sweet-tasting fruits. HKTV Mall stocks 137 Degrees walnut milk ($49.90).
Tiger nuts, one of the hottest superfoods on the market, are not, contrary to their name, nuts. These wrinkled, marble-sized orbs are small, tuberous rhizomes (subterranean stems, in layman’s terms) of a sedge grass that have been cultivated for millennia around the world. Blend with water, drain, and you get tiger nut milk. It is known to be high in resistant starch fibre, something that reduces your blood sugar spikes and keeps you full longer than other foods with the same number of calories.
Recently, tiger nuts have been getting a lot of buzz for their weight loss benefits, and that’s another one for the books if losing weight is your concern. Rude Health does an organic gluten-free tiger nut drink ($44.90) that’s available on HKTV Mall.
These tasty little snacks are actually traditionally used to combat cholesterol and high triglycerides—and those are just a few of their many health benefits! Pistachios brim with powerful phytonutrients that help to fight free radicals that damage tissues in your body. Furthermore, the milk is filling, despite the fact that one glass clocks in at only around 35 to 50 calories for a cup of milk. This plant-based milk could have a future career in meal substitutes soon! You can find 137 Degrees pistachio milk ($49.90) on HKTV mall.
This should not come as a surprise, but yes, there is such a thing as rice milk in this world. Rice milk is made from milled white or brown rice and water. As with other non-dairy milk, it often contains thickeners to improve texture and taste, but it is the least allergenic of the non-dairy milks, making it a safe option for those with allergies to dairy, gluten, soy, or nuts.
Rice milk contains a similar number of calories to cow’s milk but almost double the carbohydrates. Of all the non-dairy milk alternatives on this list, rice milk contains the most carbs, around three times as many as the others. It also contains considerably less protein and fat, which is always great. Slowood stocks Natural organic black rice milk ($36).
Yep, we’re talking about that hemp. But before we go any further, no, it doesn’t get you high. Hemp milk has a slightly sweet, nutty taste and a thin, watery texture. It works best as a substitute for lighter milk, such as skim milk. One glass provides two to three grams of high-quality, complete protein, with all the essential amino acids, making it a great option for vegans and vegetarians in need of nutrients.
What’s more, hemp milk is a multi-purpose kind of milk, as it is a source of two essential fatty acids: the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid and the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid. Your body cannot make omega-3s and omega-6s itself, so that makes hemp milk one of the most resourceful foods, too. Get yourself some of that Good Hemp creamy seed milk ($47.90) on HKTV Mall.
What do you get when you mix superfood with water? Incredibly nutritious quinoa milk, duh. The whole quinoa grain is gluten-free and rich in high-quality protein, while also packed with health benefits. Although quinoa has become a very popular “superfood” over recent years, quinoa milk is fairly new to the market. For this reason, it is slightly more expensive than other non-dairy milk and can be a little harder to find on supermarket shelves.
Quinoa milk is slightly sweet and nutty and—of course—has a distinct quinoa flavour. It works best poured onto cereal and in warm porridge, retaining all its properties as a superfood. HKTV Mall stocks The Bridge quinoa drink ($356 for a pack of six).
At 70 calories per serving, flax milk contains a lot more than meets the eye. Most shop-bought versions are made from a combination of water, flaxseed oil, and pea protein, which makes it similar in nutrient composition to pea milk. The alpha-linolenic acid found in flax also helps support your body’s immunity system and has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease. For your first foray, try Good Karma plant-powered flax milk ($324 for six cartons), which is available on Ubuy. Flax yeah!
Although the ever-expanding list of alternative milk might be a little overwhelming, now you know exactly what non-dairy milk options are available to you in Hong Kong. With so many choices, here are a few pointers for when you’re choosing your alternative milk:
Watch out for added sugar: Sugar is often added to enhance flavour and texture. Stick with unsweetened varieties over flavoured ones.
Pay attention to calcium content: Cow’s milk is rich in calcium, which is vital for healthy bones and for preventing osteoporosis. Most non-dairy milks are fortified with it, so choose one that contains at least 120 milligrammes of calcium per 3.4 ounces.
Cost does matter: Non-dairy milk is often more expensive than cow’s milk. To cut costs, try making plant-based milk at home. However, one downside of making your own milk is that it will not be fortified with calcium and vitamin B12 if your body is in need of it.
Additives may be there: Some non-dairy milk may contain additives such as carrageenan and vegetable gums to achieve a thick and smooth texture. While these additives are not necessarily unhealthy, some people prefer to avoid them.