One trend, three trailblazers

Three ways with: dairy alternatives

Brits are embracing plant-based milks and chefs are jumping on the bandwagon, using these alternatives to create new versions of some favourite dishes.

21 August 2019

The trend

  • Sales of non-dairy milk grew from £202m in 2016 to £221m in 2017 according to Mintel.  Oat milk sales grew the most between 2017 and 2018 with volume sales up 70%.
  • Not all non-dairy milks should be treated the same in cooking. Coconut and almond milks tend to be sweeter so suit milk-based desserts, while oat and soya milks work in both sweet and savoury dishes. Soya milk remains stable at high temperatures, meaning it is one of the best substitutes for dairy milk in recipes.
  • High street outlets experimenting with dairy alternatives, include vegan London restaurant Wulf & Lamb where mac 'n' cheese is made with cashew cream and Leon, where they make the Coco Whip – a non-dairy version of a soft-serve 99 ice cream with coconut milk.

Plant-based alternatives to milk are becoming increasingly popular with consumers. According to recent Mintel research, non-dairy milk is now being drunk by a quarter of Brits, rising to 33% in those aged between 16 and 24.

Despite the growth in the number of people drinking plant-based milks, made from ingredients such as soya, oat and almond, they are less likely to cook with them.  Only 25% of people drinking dairy alternatives also use them in dishes, compared to 42% of cow's milk drinkers.

Thankfully for those eschewing dairy, the foodservice sector has stepped forward to show us how dishes traditionally made with dairy milk and cream – from porridge and macaroni cheese, to panna cotta and ice cream – can be successfully created with plant-based alternatives.

Although he regularly makes his own non-dairy milks, Shane Cooke, senior company executive chef at independent caterer Vacherin, says the  alternative dairy products on the market 'are very good' and can be used to create dishes where their dairy counterparts would usually play a big role.

However, he warns that they do require some tweaking to achieve the desired creaminess. 

“Nut milks are made up of mostly water so when using them you must remember there is very low fat. This means you don’t get the more creamy texture that can be achieved with dairy products. When using nut milks in dishes, make sure you cleverly use other ingredients that can make up for the loss of texture that dairy contributes. 

“The biggest difference with non-dairy milk alternatives is the flavour. Nut milks each have a unique flavour so can usually always be recognised. Vacherin’s best-selling non-dairy milks are almond and coconut milk. We don’t just simply offer non-dairy alternatives to milk though; we take alternatives then test, test, test and develop recipes to make sure even with non-dairy options our customers are wowed with the dishes created.”


The trailblazers

Meg Greenacre, head chef at Erpingham House in Norwich, makes chantilly cream for a dessert of Eton mess with coconut milk: “Eton mess is traditionally made using meringue, whipped cream and seasonal soft fruits such as strawberries and raspberries. Soft fruits are readily available locally to Norwich so the main challenge we face is replicating the meringue and chantilly. Egg whites for the meringue are replaced with aquafaba, while the chantilly cream is made with coconut cream. To make the chantilly you only need one tin of coconut milk for two portions, icing sugar and vanilla. The coconut milk has to be separated in the tin for it to work. To do this we put the tins in the fridge overnight. Once the coconut milk has split we separate it and whip by hand for the aerated consistency of chantilly. Generally the texture of our chantilly has a lighter texture because of the reduced fat and protein. As a result the air bubbles are finer and consistency less greasy. The flavour of coconut is pronounced but not overpowering and complements the dish as a whole.”


Shane Cooke, senior company executive chef at Vacherin, London, makes a rye flake porridge with oat milk: “I got the inspiration for this breakfast porridge with a twist from a loaf of bread. The bread was part rye flour filled with orange zest, cranberries and cashews, then topped with an abundance of pumpkin seeds. I loved it and instantly started thinking of ways to replicate this flavour into a breakfast dish. By using rye flakes and oat milk plus orange juice, cashew butter and roasted cashews combined with tangerines, pumpkin seeds and cranberries I ended up with my favourite non-dairy breakfast porridge of all time. To make it, place the oat milk and orange juice in a saucepan on a medium heat and slowly warm up, then burn both sides of the skin of tangerine segments in a hot pan. When the milk and orange juice are hot, add the rye flakes and simmer for around seven minutes. Once the liquid is disappeared the oats are ready. Stir in cashew and sprinkle cashews, the tangerine segments, cranberries and pumpkin seeds evenly over the oats. The rye flakes give this dish a wonderful earthy, malty flavour; floral notes are added from the orange juice; and the nuts add a tame background bitterness. The addition of cranberries sweeten the porridge up wonderfully and the tangerines’ charred flesh really changes the flavour profile. They are a real treat especially when the warm tangerine pops in your mouth and releases those mouth-watering juices.”


Kaori Simpson, head chef at Harajuku Kitchen in Edinburgh makes matcha panna cotta with oat milk cream and coconut milk: “Our matcha panna cotta is made with pure green matcha powder, agar agar (a substitute for gelatin making it suitable for vegans), oat milk whipped cream, coconut milk and sugar. I add all the ingredients, except the matcha to a saucepan and whisk together, then simmer on a low heat. When warm, I sieve in the matcha powder and mix until smooth. The mixtures then poured into glassware and left to set. When ready to serve, the pudding is topped with crushed berries. Oat and coconut milks are not hard to work on at all. Coconut milk is very smooth and tastes yummy.  People tend not to notice that the mixture is non-dairy as it still tastes delicious, especially in something like a panna cotta. In fact, people do assume it contains dairy due to the texture.”

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