We are now in the midst of a non-dairy milk revolution.
Not long ago, soy and almond milk reigned supreme in cafés and grocery store aisles alike; however, the market for alternative milks has diversified significantly, with obscure options such as macadamia, pea, flax, and hemp sprouting up as creamy plant-based milks that outperform the old school soy and almond milks.
But one nondairy milk has made more noise than the rest: oat milk. Oat milk, made from, well, oats, has recently gained popularity – and for good reason. This milk’s sweet and creamy, but light and delicate, flavor profile is absolutely unsurpassed in its resemblance to cow’s milk, making it the ideal replacement milk for consumers who can’t get enough of their daily dairy dose but wish to cut down for health or environmental reasons.
If you’re new to the non-dairy world, you may be hearing others gush about oat-based alternative milk and thinking it’s all too wonderful to be true. Perhaps, perhaps not — but it’s time to find out. This is the little-known reality about oat milk.
Oat milk has been around for longer than you think
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If you’re acquainted with oat milk, you’re definitely familiar with one brand in particular: Oatly. They’ve become particularly well-known for their unique and eccentric approach to marketing, adorning subways, bus stops, and billboards all over the globe with creative and sometimes colorful words. Oh, and you probably already know how great their oat milk is.
But, contrary to popular belief, Oatly has been on the market for over three decades, according to Time. Rickard Oste, a researcher at Lund University in Sweden, started making his own oat milk in the 1990s while exploring lactose-free milk alternatives – he chose oats because they are a very popular crop in Sweden.
Ste launched Oatly after perfecting the procedure and marketing the milk to a tiny but loyal community of milk-loving Swedes. The company’s milk didn’t make it over the water until 2016, when it dominated American markets.
Although Oregon-based Pacific Foods was the first oat milk maker to enter the American market in 1996, Oatly is unquestionably responsible for the present oat milk frenzy, since Pacific’s oat milk never achieved the same levels of popularity as its Swedish equivalent.
Oat milk could dethrone almond milk as the most popular non-dairy milk on the market
The fast rise in popularity of oat milk may spell doom for another nondairy beverage: almond milk. When almond milk first became available in mainstream markets, it soon dethroned soy milk as the leading plant-based milk. Almond milk has remained the most popular non-dairy milk on the market, with Nielsen reporting that almond milk sales exceeded $1 billion in 2018.
Almond milk, on the other hand, may be in peril. For instance, it has lately come under fire for not being ecologically sustainable. Furthermore, the diversification of the non-dairy milk sector as a whole may pose a challenge to the nutty dairy alternative, which has already been criticized by many as being less gratifying than the new kids on the block. However, oat milk has the potential to dethrone almond milk: according to Bloomberg Businessweek, oat milk sales increased from $4.4 million in 2017 to $29 million in 2019.
While it’s a far cry from almond milk’s $1 billion, it’s worth noting that the majority of the world’s oats are used to produce animal feed, implying that the oat milk industry has plenty of room to grow; speaking to The Guardian, Liz Specht, the associate director of science and technology at the Good Food Institute, said, “There’s a huge existing acreage that we can safely steal share from without moving the needle at all on total production.”
There was a huge oat milk shortage when Oatly first hit U.S. markets
Oatly’s first efforts into the US market were so successful that they struggled to keep up with America’s growing hunger for its plant-based milk.
A few years after developing a “cult-following among hipsters, vegans, and lactose-intolerants alike,” as Fox News reported in December 2018, Oatly ran into a snag: they were out of oat milk. There just wasn’t enough supply to meet America’s insatiable appetite.
At the time, Oatly’s oat milk manufacture was almost entirely done in Europe, which meant that the oat milk had to be imported all the way to the United States, which hindered the process of getting cartons of Oatly out of the factories and into American grocery shops. Not to add that the process of producing oat milk cannot be hastened.
According to Delish, during the time of the scarcity, the firm was working on constructing its first manufacturing on American soil; the facility opened in the spring of 2019, and the shortage resolved shortly afterwards.
Meanwhile, Americans who wanted their daily dosage of oat milk turned to Amazon, where dealers were selling cartons for up to $200. Americans have been very fortunate since the inauguration of the U.S. plant; we have not seen an oat milk scarcity of that size since.
You can easily make oat milk at home
While Oatly and other famous oat milk products utilize a lot of sophisticated, scientific methods to make their oat milk as creamy as possible (such as emulsifying the milk with canola oil to give it that velvety texture), you can produce an unprocessed and equally healthful version at home just as simply.
Only oats, water, a fine mesh strainer, and a high-speed mixer are required. If you want a filling and creamy plant-based milk, you’ll want to use high-quality rolled oats rather than Quaker Oats quick oatmeal. Simply soak the oats in water overnight (a 1:4 oat-to-water ratio is ideal), then mix until smooth and creamy.
Sweeteners like coconut nectar or maple syrup may be added as an option to truly improve the taste profile and make it match the store-bought version. After mixing everything together, strain your oat milk through a strainer to eliminate any sediment and enjoy this high-fiber, easy-to-make nondairy milk!
You may notice that homemade oat milk tastes different from oat milk purchased in cartons at the grocery store. This is mostly due to the addition of enzymes, oils, and other ingredients to oat milk, which gives it its traditionally creamy taste. So, if you want an unprocessed and healthier option, cooking it at home is your best chance.
Oat milk is lower in protein than other alternative milks
Because oats are a grain rather than a protein-rich nut or legume, oat milk has much less protein than other milks such as soy milk and pea milk. When cow’s milk is added to the mix, oat milk cannot compete. However, it has more protein per serving than several plant-based milks, such as almond, cashew, coconut, or rice milk.
The typical serving of dairy milk has roughly eight grams of protein, according to Buzzfeed News. In addition, cow’s milk includes all nine necessary amino acids. While protein levels vary depending on the brand, a one-cup serving of oat milk generally contains just approximately three grams of protein and does not provide a comprehensive amino acid profile.
In terms of protein and amino acid content, soy milk is about equivalent to cow’s milk. If you’re searching for a dairy substitute while also wanting to improve your protein consumption, it’s definitely best to avoid oat milk and instead stick to soy (or obtain your protein elsewhere).
Oat milk is a bit high calorie
While you should always read the nutritional labels of the alternative milks you buy (because they can vary greatly depending on the brand), as a general rule of thumb, you should expect oat milk to be high in calories — at least when compared to other non-dairy milks. According to Buzzfeed, a cup of oat milk has around 120 calories, which is almost four times the amount of calories found in a cup of almond milk.
When compared to the usual portion of whole cow’s milk, which contains approximately 150 calories per serving (skim milk, on the other hand, has about 90), this isn’t too awful. If you’re avoiding dairy to reduce your calorie intake, oat milk will only make a little impact; however, if calorie counting isn’t a concern for you, oat milk may be the best plant-based milk for you.
Oat milk tends to be higher in carbs than other non-dairy milks
In comparison to other popular plant-based milks such as almond and soy milk, oat milk is a bit of an outlier. This is because oats are a grain – almond milk and soy milk have a similar nutritional profile since they’re made from protein-rich, fatty nuts and legumes.
According to Buzzfeed, oats have a significantly different composition and as a consequence are substantially higher in carbs, with an average serving of unsweetened oat milk having roughly 16 grams of carbohydrates. Depending on the type and whether or not it’s sweetened, soy milk may contain anywhere from 3 to 15 grams per serving, whereas cow’s milk typically has 11 to 13 grams.
This is quite typical of grain-based milks in general; unsweetened rice milk, another popular nondairy milk with a grain as the major component, contains 0 grams of protein per serving and roughly 22 grams of carbs.
Oat milk is the environmentally sustainable alternative
It’s no secret that dairy is not ecologically friendly. According to The Guardian, almost every non-dairy milk on the market is healthier for the environment than cow’s milk. Dairy production produces an unprecedented quantity of greenhouse emissions, which are substantially responsible for global warming, and it also consumes more land and water than other non-dairy milks.
However, certain nondairy milks are superior than others. For example, almond milk is a famously unsustainable nondairy milk. According to the UCSF Office of Sustainability, around 80% of almonds are grown in drought-stricken California, and since it takes roughly 15 gallons of water to produce only 16 almonds, almond milk manufacturing has the potential to have a significant impact on the state’s environment.
Already, agricultural districts in the state’s San Joaquin Valley are suffering from groundwater depletion, resulting in ground sinking, as a consequence of the almond industry’s unrestricted use of limited water resources across the state.
In terms of ecologically sustainable options, oat milk may be one of the most feasible options. According to The Guardian, since oats are typically cultivated in colder, northern countries like Canada and Scandinavia, cultivating a big amount of them does not need the same amounts of deforestation that many other crops (looking at you, coconut milk) do.
Oat milk is a good source of dietary fiber
It’s no surprise that oatmeal is such a popular breakfast option: oats are very high in dietary fiber, which aids our metabolism in the morning. As a consequence, oat milk is high in fiber, according to a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.
Oats contain between two and nine percent nutritional fiber. According to a Good Housekeeping article, they even include a form of fiber known as beta-glucan, which has been shown to decrease cholesterol.
This unusual sort of fiber, as discovered by researchers at the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy in 2017, has the ability to not only decrease your cholesterol levels, but also to enhance your immune system and repopulate your gut flora.
Beta-glucan also offers the body with prebiotics, which assist stimulate your body’s already-existing probiotics, thereby improving digestion and ensuring that your body effectively absorbs nutrients from all of the other beneficial foods you consume.
Oat milk froths up better than other non-dairy milks
Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
Still not sure why Oatly was so successful when it initially arrived in the United States? Go to your local coffee shop and request an oat milk latté. You’ll immediately see why all the fuss is made: steamed oat milk is second to none when it comes to nondairy milk and coffee combinations.
Baristas around the nation are switching to oat milk because the milk’s neutral taste profile complements creamy espresso-based drinks like lattés, mochas, and flat whites. According to Refinery 29, oat milk froths up exceptionally beautifully when steamed, generating the ideal microfoam for a non-dairy cappuccino.
Because oat milk has a lower protein content than other non-dairy milks, baristas must use a slightly different steaming technique (because the proteins in the milk are what give steamed milk its characteristic bubbly structure), but once the microfoam is established, steamed oat milk has the perfect, velvety consistency that will satisfy even the most devoted dairy aficionados.
In addition, customized barista blends for oat milk have begun appearing in coffee shops around the nation – these versions are carefully prepared so that baristas can easily froth them up without having to change their steaming method too much.
Oat milk could potentially have anti-cancerous properties
Beta-glucan, a particular fiber found in oats, has been proven in a paper published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules to have some lethal effects when given to human melanoma cells. This suggests that beta-glucan effectively eliminated malignant skin cancer cells.
Don’t start drinking oat milk in the hopes of avoiding cancer just yet – much more study is needed, as with many other possible cancer therapies, before drawing any conclusions regarding oats and their cancer-fighting potential.
While it is still unclear whether oats can be used effectively in cancer treatment, the report noted that beta-glucan derived from oats is more easily digestible than beta-glucan derived from other sources, such as fungi and yeasts, implying that if beta-glucan becomes a mainstream cancer treatment option, oats are likely to be the source from which the fiber is derived.
Still, oats aren’t completely safe; many oat farms use glyphosate, a chemical that has been linked to cancer. For the record, Oatly has said that they do not use glyphosate-treated oats, so it’s probably best to stick to their milk if you’re worried about the impacts of glyphosate.
Many brands of oat milk are gluten-free
Those with celiac disease or a basic gluten allergy may ask whether oat milk is the correct dairy substitute for them; after all, many grain-based products include gluten, which is plainly not good. Fortunately, oats are inherently gluten-free.
However, things get a little more complicated when you investigate how oats are processed. According to The Kitchn, oats are commonly processed in the same facilities as barley, wheat, and rye, all of which contain gluten; as a consequence, oats are frequently contaminated with minute levels of gluten, even though they do not contain gluten themselves.
As with many other non-dairy milks (some soy milks have been discovered to contain gluten! ), gluten-sensitive people should check to see whether the brand and flavor of oat milk they’re buying is gluten-free. If you live in the United States, you’re in luck: numerous oat milks are gluten-free or offer gluten-free choices. Just remember to read the label.