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Plant-based foods are more and more popular each year. As a result, we see a greater variety of plant-based beverages available in grocery stores. Although often referred to as milk, this is misleading. Milk specifically comes from mammals to feed their young and contains all the nutrients needed to thrive. Plant-based beverages can mimic the texture of milk but do not naturally have all the nutrients needed.
The most common plant-based beverages available are made from soy, rice, oat, coconut, almond, cashew and macadamia nuts. Each will have a slightly different flavour and texture. When starting to use plant-based beverages, buy smaller containers until you find the brand and plant you prefer most.
The basic steps to make plant-based beverages are the same regardless of the type of plant material used. Nuts are shelled and hulled. The raw nuts are then soaked in water until they are soft. The softened nuts and water are then ground to release their oils, and the solids are then strained off. Vitamins, minerals emulsifiers, preservatives and flavour enhancers may be added.
If you are making cookies, scones, muffins, or quick breads, you should have no problem replacing dairy milk with a plant-based beverage. This is because it’s acting as a source of moisture that helps to activate the baking soda or baking powder in the recipe.
Recipes that rely on the protein in the milk to help thicken, such as homemade puddings and cream sauces, may need you to experiment. For thickening, you need to have a certain amount of protein and, except for “soy milk,” most plant-based beverages naturally have a lower amount of protein. Some manufacturers, but not all, add protein to their products.
Plant-based beverages also have different fat content than traditional dairy milk. A higher fat content will help to thicken sauces and will affect how it feels in your mouth. The fat content in plant-based beverages depends on the original plant source, as nuts tend to be higher in fat than grains. Read nutrition labels to determine how much protein and fat each beverage has.
You can purchase canned coconut milk in the ethnic food section of grocery stores, or you can purchase cartons of coconut milk in the refrigerator. The biggest difference in these products is the water content. Coconut milk in cartons has a much higher water content and often has emulsifiers and preservatives added. It also has a lower fat content as the coconut cream is removed before filtering begins. Canned coconut milk still has coconut cream in it; that can be used to make a coconut-flavoured whipped cream alternative.