The Best Milk Substitutes for Every Kitchen Situation

Whether you're baking or making cereal, whipping or dunking.

May 15, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

I really like milk milk.

My partner, though, is very allergic—not pop-a-Lactaid allergic, but hives-and-EpiPen allergic. So, sharing meals (and spaces) has necessarily meant a sharp decline in my dairy consumption (bye, cream). It’s not that having dairy at the table will poison him, but I’ve come to learn that meals are just slightly less enjoyable, less meaningful when you can’t share them with the person you love. (OK, the reality is less virtuous: I ordered a burrata appetizer at a restaurant a few months ago and had to eat the entire ball alone.)

Enter non-dairy milk—aka "milk" made from blending then filtering mashed nuts, seeds, beans or grains, and water. The best have a thick, creamy body and a singular flavor. The worst are thin, gummy, and flavored. But, even the best sometimes can’t take the heat (literally, so many of them curdle), hence why the thin, gummy ones exist. Here are 6 of the best non-dairy substitutes for milk—some are more suited for cooking and baking, others for cereal, whipping, or drinking straight.

6 Best Substitutes for Milk

For Drinking Straight, Dunking, Cereal-ing

Oat milk

Oat milk is so creamy, foams well (hello, matcha), and tastes slightly sweet (in a grain, not sugar, kind of way). It’s my go-to for cereal, cookie dunking, and even cooking. I’ve had great success subbing it into enriched bread doughs and creamy pasta sauces. It’s also the gentlest on our planet—a huge win, in my book.

Nut milks

Nut milks now come in a dizzying array of flavors and sweetness levels. I’ve found it more helpful to instead go by the nutrition label, electing for cartons with single-item ingredient lists (“almonds”) and a decently high amount of fat (which, to me, has been the surest marker of creaminess). Nut milk production is very water- and bee-demanding, so if you can avoid it, do.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is delicious as-is, even more so when fresh and hot, lightly sweetened, and served with fan tuan and you tiao for dipping. While its consistency is on the thinner side, I’ve always been struck by how “milky” soy milk tastes. Undeservedly, soy’s developed a bit of a bad reputation, as vegetarian cookbook author Lukas Volger shared with me in a recent interview:

I also think there’s a big misconception about soy and its effects on one’s estrogen levels—it’s important to understand that that fear of soy is so much more about how it’s used in processed foods (in the form of soy isolate, where soybeans are stripped of all the good fibers and fats that make them a healthful whole food) to boost the protein counts. It’d take a lot of soybeans to get a tablespoon’s worth of soy isolate.

Soybeans' land and water requirements are comparable to oat’s, and so, soy milk is considered one of the eco-friendlier alt-milks.

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk tastes subtly sweet, grassy, and has a thin body that foams well. Like oat and soy, hemp requires little water and of the land, and has actually been proven to be beneficial to soil health.

For Baking & Cooking

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is one of the few, and perhaps only, non-dairy milks that can function as heavy cream in a recipe. Chilled coconut cream can be whipped to lofty heights—for topping berries, frosting cakes, even aerating a vegan mousse. When heated, it doesn’t curdle, making it an especially smart choice for soups, stews, or braises. Like almond milk, coconut milk is now offered by many brands in many variants—check the back of the can for as short an ingredient list as possible.

Rice Milk

I had forgotten about rice milk—made from ground raw rice and water—until Food Editor Emma Laperruque’s Rice-Milk Rice Pudding reminded me of its deliciousness. Rice milk is a smart choice for starchy, rice-y applications: rice pudding, grain bowls (sweet and savory), or horchata, to name a few. While homemade rice milk may be slightly more tolerant of heating than commercial, boiling can make it separate, so keep things to a simmer. Rice production is rather water-intensive and greenhouse-gas-emitting, so try to avoid going out of your way to purchase commercial rice milk.

What are your favorite non-milk milks? Tell us about it in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • sometimestraveler
  • Darlene
  • laurenlemongrass
  • mikedalena
  • Coral Lee
    Coral Lee
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.


sometimestraveler April 25, 2022
I want non-dairy milk that is NOT sweet to use to make cream sauces for vegetables, etc. Which would be best. If more than one would work, please let me know that too. I also limit potassium.
mikedalena April 26, 2022
I used to make a very popular coconut cream gravy for a vegan biscuits and gravy I'd make for our dinner club (sometimes the theme was breakfast for dinner). It turned out great, was super savory, and surprisingly popular with the non vegan guests. I even got a, "best biscuits and gravy I've ever had," from a dedicated meat eater! Try unsweetened coconut milk. Most nut milks are no sweeter than regular milk (which is actually pretty darn sweet) so I think it's a matter of experimenting to find the just right milk for your application. My first thought it unsweetened cashew milk. I think that would work great with garlic, cheeses, and herbs. Let me know what you figure out! I'll be curious to learn what you discover! (I'm far from vegan BTW, I just like cooking EVERYTHING!)
Darlene December 19, 2020
What would be the best milk alternative for making scalloped potatoes?
Coral L. December 19, 2020
Hi Darlene! I think a full-fat oat would taste the richest while remaining neutral (and stable while heated), but could see coconut being a fun alternative if you wanted to experiment with the flavor profile.
laurenlemongrass May 26, 2020
The article mentions that nut milk utilizes a lot of water in its production. While true, I think it's still important to note that all non-dairy milks use less water than dairy.

Overall great list though!
mikedalena May 17, 2020
Hmmmm. The sub header includes “whipping” but no mention of it in the article. Disappointing. I’m guessing acqua faba is still the best for whipping. I was just hoping there was a more milk/cream like discovery. 😏
laurenlemongrass May 26, 2020
Coconut milk! The article mentions that it can be whipped.