Battle of the Milk Alternatives

t’s sort of funny when two worlds collide unexpectedly, especially when one comes to the aid of the other. Take for example my recent search for the perfect milk alternative. I don’t dislike good ol’ cow’s milk, nor am I … Read More

By / November 19, 2009

t’s sort of funny when two worlds collide unexpectedly, especially when one comes to the aid of the other. Take for example my recent search for the perfect milk alternative. I don’t dislike good ol’ cow’s milk, nor am I allergic to it. But as an observant Jew, I often find myself at odds with the fridge staple, usually after I’ve just enjoyed a delicious turkey sandwich. I am what some would call a Fleish-a-phobe: I rarely eat meat if I can avoid it out of dread for the five hours and one minute to follow, when I will be barred from my favorite treats: ice cream, chocolate, cheese, milk-based pie, the list goes on.

And so I’ve spent some time searching for that perfect alternative, that wondrous, dairy-free concoction that will replace milk in my cookie recipe and help me whip up the perfect pareve pumpkin pie. Recently, my best friend and I (with both health and Halacha in mind) unofficially took it upon ourselves to taste-test every non-milk available to us, from various brands of soymilk to the less orthodox (and rarely Kosher) hemp milk, with varying results.

Soymilk is chock full of protein and readily available (call me crazy, but I don’t think the taste is that bad, either), but it’s also full of added sugar and contains estrogen. You know what they say about too much female hormone… Rice milk was the best tasting, but full of empty carbs and calories. Almond milk was pleasant and nutty, but was (as all nut products) high in fat. (Plus, as this website states, although almonds are among the most healthful nuts out there, the amount used in the milk is so small "you’re better off just eating the nuts"). I like to point out that real milk isn’t without its problems (hello, cholesterol), but two foodies can dream, can’t they?

A fourth, hemp milk seemed the healthiest: filled with Omega 3 fatty acids, high on the protein, but it proved near impossible to find Kosher. On the day I finally saw that the strange mark on one box was a legitimate Teudah Kashrut, I snatched it off the shelf, never mind the eight dollars a carton.

We found it quite good, definitely a few steps up from the starchy powder my friend had been mixing into his drinks for a protein boost (he’d once remarked to me that it tasted like sawdust), and I happily realized that it had virtually no aftertaste: it was just like rice milk! And one look at the ingredients told us why. The second ingredient was rice milk, and it had brought so many empty calories with it. So much for the cannabis smoothie.

Aside from our dilemma, we grappled with the idea that we may just seem a little, well… nuts to be searching so seriously. I got a few stares from my family when I announced that I’d found hemp milk Kosher. Why did I care so much? Use plain soymilk in baking and be done. Who likes the taste of that stuff anyway? (I countered with something like "I shamelessly enjoy the taste of soymilk, and this argument has been milked to death anyway," pun totally intended.)

And then last week we sat around the Shabbat table, and the subject turned onto Ma’aras Ayin – the idea that an act might be forbidden not because it technically breaks any laws, but because it looks like it does, and if -one would see us doing it, they would think we were breaking Halacha. My Daf-Yomi-learning brother cited a passage in Gemara that mentiond two types of milk: the old favorite, cow’s milk and almond milk. My father looked up from his beef and potatoes and asked "almond milk? Like milk with almonds in it?"

Oh boy, did this plant-obsessed foodie have fun. And a few days later, still fascinated by the idea that milk alternative was not a hippie-green-party modern invention after all but with connections to Judaism as far back as any gefilte fish, I brought home a carton of chocolate almond milk for my father to try. Then I went looking for that passage in Gemara Masechet Beitzah and found it pretty fast (thank you, internet!). In a question of whether Maras Ayin applies to Rabbinical laws or only to laws stated in the Torah, the Rama stated that "one is permitted to put fowl into almond’s milk without concern for Ma’arat Ayin because the prohibition of eating fowl with milk is Rabbinic." But when marinating beef in the pareve, milk-like substance, we should place a few almonds on the side, as a sign that no, we haven’t lost our Halachic marbles. We’re just a little nuts.

So who won the battle of the milk alternatives? I’d like to think we did: we’ve got four awesome sources to turn to for once dairy cookies turned pareve. I’m not keen on shelling out eight bucks for hemp-enriched rice milk, but I’ve got a carton of chocolate soy in the fridge, and boy am I thirsty.


This post originally appeared on The Jew & The Carrot and is reprinted with permission.

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