If you’ve been around a while, you know the alternative milk scene is constantly expanding and trying new things. There was the popular original alternative, soy milk, the next wave of almond milk, a drinkable coconut milk and an endless number of spinoffs, like cashew, hemp and rice milk.
If you follow any foodies on Instagram, you’ve probably seen that oat milk is enjoying its own time in the sun. It’s currently the darling alternative milk for everything from lattes to matcha teas to ice cream. The New York Times did a piece earlier this year about its rise to fame. But what exactly is oat milk, and why are people so obsessed with it?
It tastes good
Oat milk tends to be richer than other alternative milks, says registered dietitian Lauren Manaker. “It kind of tastes like oatmeal. If you like oatmeal, you’ll probably like oat milk,” she said. Manaker actually prefers the taste and consistency of oat milk in hot tea to cow’s milk.
Oat milk foams well
The drink gained popularity with baristas because certain brands like Oatly foam in a comparable way to dairy milk thanks to the addition of canola oil, making latte art and “extra foam” a real possibility. That’s not true for most alternative milks. Starbucks even added it to their European stores back in January.
It’s nutritionally substantial
The oaty beverage also has some impressive nutritional stats when compared to other alternative milks. A cup of oat milk contains 10 percent of your recommended daily iron (more than soy or almond milk), 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber. A cup of almond milk contains just 1 gram of protein per cup and no fiber. Soy milk still outdoes oat milk in terms of protein at nearly 11 grams of protein per cup, as does regular old cow’s milk, which has 8 grams of protein in a cup. But if you’re struggling with a soy allergy or lactose intolerance, oat milk is a solid alternative.
Whether you’re lactose intolerant or have a soy, nut or gluten allergy, oat milk will work for you — just be sure to confirm it’s been made somewhere that cross-contamination couldn’t have occurred.
If you’re trying to be kind to Mother Earth, oat milk is a winner there too. Oats use about 290 gallons of water to grow 1 pound of oats — it takes 1,929 gallons to grow a pound of almonds. Cow’s milk, surprisingly, only takes about 122 gallons per pound.
It’s easily accessible
Two of the biggest brands of oat milk right now are Oatly, which is credited with bringing oat milk to the U.S., and Pacific Foods, which manufactures several types of alternative milks. But it’s also pretty simple to make your own oat milk. You just make oatmeal, basically, and then use a cheesecloth to press the water — now milk — into a cup, retaining the oats themselves.
But it’s not perfect
Manaker cautions that labels don’t tell the full story when it comes to the true nutritional value of oat milk and other alternatives. “With all the dairy alternatives, the manufacturers try to mimic what cow’s milk offers, so they’ll add calcium or they’ll add vitamin D,” she says. “The caveat is with traditional cow’s milk they add vitamin D3, which is the preferred source of vitamin D. The alternatives — including oat milk — most manufacturers, they add vitamin D2, which is cheaper…[and] is not as readily absorbed by the body.”
Iodine is another trace element that’s present in dairy but not in oat milk. Especially if a patient is pregnant or lactating, finding a replacement source of iodine and vitamin D is important. Manaker recommends salmon and eggs for vitamin D and seaweed, cod or iodized salt for iodine.
Overall, fad or not, it’s a drink worth considering. “If people are choosing not to drink dairy cow’s milk, this is probably nutritionally one of the better choices out there on the market,” Manaker said.
So, who’s down for a warm glass of oats?