Milk Replacers

Non Dairy Beverages – How Good Are They?

Soy milk was first developed in the US by John Harvey Kellogg, who was the inventor of corn flakes and granola and head of the Battle Creek Sanitarium for over 50 years. A student of Kellogg’s, Dr. Harry W. Miller took Kellogg’s knowledge of soy milk with him to China. Miller developed processes to make the soy milk more palatable and began production on a factory-scale in China in 1936.


Soy milk can be a good substitute for animal milk.

In various developing countries, the scarce supply of cows milk has made it desirable to invest in the development of plant protein beverages. Dietary constraints (avoidance of cholesterol and saturated fat), religious convictions (Buddhists), ethical philosophy (Save the Planet) and personal choice (dislike dairy products, fear of mad-cow disease) have led others to be interested in the use of alternatives to cows milk. In addition, medical reasons (lactose intolerance, allergies) have prompted a growing interest in milk alternatives.

Today’s replacements for dairy milk are variously referred to as milk substitutes, milk beverage alternatives and non-dairy beverages. Soy milks are just one example of such beverages available on the market today.

Major Ingredients

Non-dairy beverages can be made form soybeans, tofu, grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Whole soy beans are used as the main ingredient in most products. Many labels list the beans as organic whole soy beans to attract customers who prefer naturally grown products. Soy protein isolate, a concentrated protein derived from soy beans is the second most common main ingredient. A few products use Tofu as the main ingredient. Tofu is made from pureed soy beans like cottage cheese is made from cows milk.

Other products use grains, vegetables, nuts or seeds (such as rice, oats, green peas, potato or almonds) as a major ingredient. Home recipes for non-dairy beverage use soybeans, almonds, cashews or sesame seeds.


Non-dairy beverages are judged for acceptability first by sight and smell. If the product is a caramel or tan color it is likely to be rejected as a replacement for cows milk before it has ever been tasted. White or cream colored products are more readily accepted. Off-odors also bias the acceptability of a product.

Factors which negatively impact the acceptability of a non-dairy beverage include: taste (too sweet, too salty, chalky), consistency (too thick, too watery, grainy, gritty, pasty, oily mouth feel), and aftertaste (beany flavor, bitter flavor, medicine flavor).

Product Formulation

The most common nutrients added to a non-dairy beverage are those nutrients found abundantly in cows milk. These nutrients include: protein, calcium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and Vitamin A. Cows milk and some commercial non-dairy beverages are fortified with Vitamin D.

Of the thirty plus non-dairy beverages on the market today there is a wide variation of philosophies on the amount and kind of fortification for products. Some products have absolutely no fortification, while other products are heavily fortified to closely proximate cows milk in nutritional profile.

Comparable Nutritional Value

While acceptable taste is an important consideration in selecting a non-dairy beverage, the nutritional value should be more important. One should select a fortified brand, if possible, that contains at least 20-30% of the US RDA for calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12, values which are similar to the nutritional profile of dairy milk. For those who live in northern latitudes (in which winter sunlight is too weak for vitamin D synthesis) a non-dairy beverage should be chosen that is fortified with vitamin D.

Uses in Cooking

A common misconception is that non-dairy beverages can be substituted for dairy milk in any recipe. The biggest problems in cooking occur during the heating/cooking/baking of the non-dairy beverage. Non-dairy beverages that are soy-based or that are highly fortified with Calcium Carbonate tend to curdle at high temperatures. This problem is intensified if an acidic food (tomatoes, oranges) is also used.

Consistency or texture changes may be unpredictable when substituting a non-dairy beverage. For example, most instant puddings do not set when a non-dairy beverage is substituted for dairy milk. When making gravies, a higher percentage of thickening agent (starch) needs to be used.

Flavor is another factor in selecting a non-dairy beverage and using it in cooking. A sweet or vanilla flavor is hardly suitable for soups or savory recipes.

As a general rule, soy-based non-dairy beverages have a thicker, richer, and creamier texture than grain or nut based non-dairy beverages. Rice-based non-dairy beverages have a lighter, sweeter flavor, and for many people, more closely imitate the flavor of dairy milk. Nut-based non-dairy beverages are better for sweeter dishes including curries, and desserts of all kinds. Experimentation in replacing dairy milk with non-dairy beverages is often the best teacher.

Interpreting Labels

The following terms are commonly found on non-dairy beverage product labels:

  • 1% fat: This means 1% by weight of the product, NOT 1% of the kcalories. Lowfat 1% cows milk contains 27% of the kcalores from fat. Lowfat 1% non-dairy beverages may also contain as much as 27 % of their kcalories from fat.
  • Cholesterol Free: This is a correct term but remember that all non-dairy beverage products are cholesterol free because all are manufactured from plants. No plant contains cholesterol.
  • Light/Lite/Fat-Free: Some Lowfat products are high in kcalories. One non-dairy beverage product while free of fat, contains 160 kcalories per 8 oz glass. By comparison, one 8 oz glass of nonfat cows milk contains 90 kcalories. The extra kcalores in the non-dairy beverage come from carbohydrate usually in the form of simple sugars.
  • Tofu: Some products claiming to be tofu non-dairy beverages have as their first ingredient, sugar or sweetener; second ingredient, oil; third ingredient, calcium carbonate (a calcium supplement); and finally tofu as the fourth, fifth, or sixth ingredient. This may mean that tofu non-dairy beverages are mainly carbohydrate and oil based and not tofu.

Guidelines for Selecting a Non-Diary Beverage

In selecting a non-dairy beverage consider the following:

  • Depending upon your personal nutritional goals choose a non-dairy beverage that is either low-fat or regular fat.
  • Select a non-dairy beverage that is fortified with at least 20-30% of the US RDA for calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.
  • If you use a non-dairy beverage with lower than the US RDA percentages then eat other foods daily that are rich sources of calcium, riboflavin, and Vitamin B12.
  • Select a variety of non-dairy beverages available in your area that meet your criteria for #1 and #2 above and purchase these products in small sizes to try for acceptable appearance, smell, and taste. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully when mixing up powdered products.
  • None of these products are suitable for infants. Non-dairy beverages are generally lacking sufficient protein and fat and have not been formulated for the immature digestive system of an infant. Non-dairy beverages are hazardous to babies healthy growth. Use a specially designed soy-based infant formula for your infant and child up till at least 12 months of age.

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