Anyone living in LA in 2022 knows that plant-based milk alternatives are running rampant. You walk into a grocery store, or more likely into a coffee shop on Larchmont, and the milk varieties seem endless. The days of deciding between whole, low-fat and 2 percent milk are in the past. I can only imagine the look of fear in the barista’s eyes at the local “indie” coffee shop as I request cow’s milk in my iced vanilla latte. Of course soy milk is a classic, and other alternatives such as coconut milk are on the market, none are rising in popularity quite like almond and oat. So now, the only real question is which alternative milk will reign supreme: almond or oat?
Honestly, once the milk has been mixed into my coffee, matcha or whatever my current drink of choice is, I can hardly tell the difference in taste. Truthfully, I vacillate between almond and oat milk based on a pure whim when I step up to the counter to place my order. But, I have decided to finally put the issue to rest and turn to empirical evidence and research to determine once and for all which plant-based milk alternative will prevail!
Compared to cow’s milk, which greatly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and uses massive amounts of land, almond milk is the environmentally-friendly milk option that we all need… or is it? This popular milk alternative is made by soaking almonds in water, blending them and then straining the mixture to remove the solids. Almond crops require six times the amount of water compared to oat crops, and are primarily grown in California, a state already struggling with the ongoing drought. In fact, 16.25 gallons of water in total are required to produce a single glass of almond milk. So, while almond milk definitely has its benefits in terms of carbon emissions, the environmental impact is quickly countered by its profuse water waste.
Many people also gravitate towards almond milk because it is a low-calorie low-carb alternative to cow’s milk, optimal for those trying to lose weight, with nearly half the amount of calories and carbs as that of oat and cow’s milk. However, along with that comes decreased amounts of fibers, protein and nutrients. This is largely due to the straining process which extracts the nutrient-rich pulp. Although many nutrients are lost, almond milk is still relatively high in healthy fats, which help the body maintain lower blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol levels. So, while there are clear “weight loss” health benefits to almond milk, it contains virtually none of the vital protein and nutrients that cow and oat milk offer.
While more expensive than traditional cow’s milk, almond milk is the cheaper alternative, coming in at a cost of about $4 per half-gallon as opposed to oat milk’s $5.
Taste and texture:
Although I am not particularly picky about the taste, I would describe almond milk as a very thin milk with just a slight hint of an almond taste and a naturally sweet flavor.
Oat milk is made by milling whole oats, mixing them with warm water and then treating them with enzymes. This mixture is heated to increase the thickness and finally strained and completed with the addition of extra vitamins. This process results in comparatively very little waste and emissions. Additionally, because oats are commonly used as animal feed, oat crops are already being produced on a very large scale with previously established infrastructure. Overall oat milk is a very low-maintenance option compared to other milk alternatives and has the lowest total carbon footprint and water usage.
Oat milk is significantly higher in carbs and calories than almond milk, but what it lacks in weight loss properties it makes up for in vitamins and nutrients. Particularly, oat milk is rich in Vitamin B-12 which improves metabolism, and Riboflavin which improves several bodily functions such as designation, blood, and brain function. Plus, oat milk is a great source of calcium for bone development, at only 5 percent less calcium than cow’s milk.
I feel like the only true fallback of oat milk is its price, averaging at around $5 per half-gallon compared to almond milk’s $4 and cow milk’s $2. Although it is only a dollar more expensive than almond milk, if you are going to be buying coffee on Larchmont nearly every day (something I am certainly guilty of), the extra few cents can add up over time, making it a less financially sustainable option.
Taste and texture:
Oat milk has a very unique taste, with a thicker consistency that is more along the lines of traditional cow’s milk. This makes it work especially well when steamed or frothed to act as a creamer. I also love how the earthy flavor of the nuts compliments the flavor of coffee, and oat milk’s lack of natural sweetness can be easily combated by adding a different sweetener into the coffee too.
The winner takes it all:
Taste and texture: Oat
So, the victor is confirmed; Hopefully I have successfully compelled you to finally make the switch to oat milk, or at least to give it a try.