The last decade has seen a surge in dairy-alternatives and grocery store aisles are bursting with dairy-free milk alternatives. With all these choices and confusing marketing terms like “natural” and “plant based”, it’s hard to know which to choose.
First, why opt for a dairy-free milk? The answer is obvious for someone with milk allergies, but alternatives to cows milk can benefit everyone. Different milk alternatives offer a variety of flavors and health benefits. If you’re on a diet that recommends low dairy, you can compromise by incorporating dairy free alternatives into some aspects of your diet, like the milk in this quiche, so you can save the dairy for things that are more difficult to substitute.
Plant-based milk alternatives boil down into 5 categories:
Cereal based – oat, rice, corn, spelt
Legume based – soy, peanut
Nut based – almond, coconut, hazelnut, pistachio, walnut
Seed based – sesame, flax, hemp, sunflower
Pseudo-cereal based – quinoa, teff, amaranth
Upon first glance, they may seem like a simple substitute, but many of the non-dairy milks are packed with preservatives and additives that are best avoided. The biggest challenges for these popular plant-based milks are shelf-stability and texture. To combat short shelf life, thin textures and separation, companies use heat treatment, preservatives and emulsifiers. (R) A few common additives include carrageenan, xanthin gum and guar gum, to name a few.
Carrageenan is used to thicken and stabilize milk. It also adds to the creamy texture we expect. It has been the subject of controversy for decades regarding its effects on health. Studies have shown carrageenan significantly promotes inflammation and has harmful gastrointestinal effects. (R)(R) Last year, the National Organic Standards Board, an organic advisory committee, voted to ban carrageenan from certified organic foods, but against their advice, the USDA decided to continue to allow it in certified organic products.
Gums like xanthin gum and guar gum also serves to thicken and stabilize plant-based milks. (R)
Xanthan gum is a product of bacterial fermentation, often derived from common allergens like wheat, corn and soy. Like Carrageenan (but to a lesser extent), xanthin gum has been associated with irritation in the gastrointestinal tract, including altered gut bacteria. (R)
Guar gum is derived from guar beans, a type of legume. (R) It has been associated with digestive issues like gas and bloating and often has traces of soy. Guar gum was a topic of controversy in the 90’s due to a weight loss drug with a goal of mimicking satiety. (R) This drug used large amount of guar gum which led to esophageal and small bowel obstruction. (R) This led to the FDA to ban guar gum in weight loss products, however, as with all the additives listed here, the FDA has dubbed guar gum generally safe for consumption in small amounts.
In addition to these thickeners, many dairy alternatives have added sugars, which can quickly add up. Always opt for the plain, unsweetened version of any type of plant-based milk.
Our recipe below uses hemp milk, a complete protein that provides all the essential amino acids. It is an ideal dairy-free option for people who need to avoid not only dairy, but also nuts and soy. Hemp milk is made from the hulled seeds of the hemp plant. It’s earthy flavor is ideal for baking. It is naturally higher in protein than any of the other dairy alternatives and has a great ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. (R)
Ideally when looking for milk substitutes, you want as close to the whole food as you can get. Unfortunately, hemp milk is difficult to find without the added sugars and preservatives. But, the good news is – it’s insanely easy to make at home! The recipe is below. You can strain the milk if you’d like but I have found it to come out quite smooth, especially when using a Vitamix. The recipe below makes more than you’ll need for the quiche. The extra milk can be kept up 5-7 days in the refrigerator. Just give it a good shake before serving.
Quiche is one of the easiest go-to breakfasts there is, not to mention one of the most satisfying. However, many quiche recipes can be packed with dairy and wheat. In this recipe, we skip the flour and instead opts for antioxidant rich sweet potatoes. The trick is to slice them as thinly as possible to get a deliciously crisp crust. A mandolin slicer comes in handy here but a steady hand and a sharp chefs knife be just as effective.
If goat cheese doesn’t fit into your diet, you can simply leave it out of this recipe. If you’re not avoiding dairy, go ahead and use a little organic milk in this recipe. For those of you avoiding eggs, this can be made with pureed tofu in lieu of eggs. And if oil isn’t in your diet, try roasting the sweet potatoes dry — just be sure to allow more cook time for them to get tender. Change up the fillings to find the combination that works best for you.
Danielle Moore is a professional recipe developer, Nutrition expert, food photographer and lover of veggies. She is the founder of Sunday Bacon Kitchen, a full service Culinary and Nutrition Consulting firm that collaborates with health-centered food businesses to create amazing food.