This favorite non-dairy milk isn't just for coffee drinks.

By Laura Rege
May 20, 2020
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Credit: Bryan Gardner

A new star has emerged in dairy alternatives, and it's oat milk. First it took coffee shops by storm, and we couldn’t get enough frothy oat milk lattes and cappuccinos. Now it's as accessible as regular dairy milk on grocery store shelves, making it a viable ingredient for our favorite drinks and dishes.

Are you an oat milk newbie? Take one sip and you'll be as hooked as we are by the subtly oaty flavor and smooth, milky texture. Here, learn what to look for when buying oat milk, then get inspired by our creative ideas for using oat milk in the kitchen that go beyond a cup of joe. We're also breaking down when not to use oat milk as a replacement for traditional dairy, because we believe that's just as important as knowing when you can make the swap.

What to Look for When Choosing an Oat Milk

Oat milk is essentially made from oats blended with water, but each brand has its own taste, texture, and milk-like consistency. Look for a brand that isn't too thick or thin; you also want to choose one with a nice, clean oat flavor, but nothing so strong that it will overpower other ingredients. You'll also want to pay close attention to the nutritional information: Oat milk naturally contains fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Some brands fortify the oat milk with vitamins like D and B12 and calcium to match the nutritional profile of milk. Select a brand that works best for your diet.

One you're happy with the nutritional information, check out the actual ingredients. For consistency and to ensure the oat milk doesn't separate, brands add oil, stabilizers, or gums. A shorter purer ingredient list is always best in our books. Double check if it is sweetened or unsweetened. And it's important to note that while oat milk is dairy free, nut free, lactose free, soy free, and plant-based, which makes it suitable for many dietary restrictions, it is not necessarily gluten free. Check the label if you are allergic or gluten intolerant.

How to Use Oat Milk in Beverages

Whether at home or the local coffee shop, oat milk produces a creamy cup of coffee. Why do baristas love it so much? Oat milk foams better than other alternative milks, so your latte tastes and looks good. Think beyond coffee, though: Combine oat milk with matcha for a dairy-free matcha latte, add a dash to any cup of hot tea, or make a rich, creamy smoothie—it's absolutely delicious blended with frozen berries.

How to Use Oat Milk in Breakfast Recipes

Here's a good breakfast rule of thumb: You can almost always swap regular milk for an equal amount of oat milk in your favorite morning meals. Double down on oats for the creamiest oatmeal, or for a really delicious spin swap it for milk in this baked oatmeal. Mix into chia pudding or pour over cereal. You can even add a touch to frittatas or scrambled eggs.

How to Bake with Oat Milk

Oat milk just happens to rank number one on our list of favorite alternative milks for baking. The lightly toasted oat flavor is complementary with so many of the flavor profiles in baked goods. Try it in chocolate or vanilla cakes and cupcakes, make a banana bread with a hint of oat, or mix with berries in muffins. For a slightly savory baked good, use it in cornbread.

"When baking, you can substitute oat milk for any dairy milk, as it replicates the viscosity of dairy milk so well," says Stephen Williamson, co-founder and CEO of Forager Project, a maker of oat milk. "Make sure you shake the oat milk before using it, so everything is blended well and you can enjoy the full smooth and creamy texture of the milk."

How to Use Oat Milk in Savory Dishes

Ready to get more adventurous? Oat milk isn't limited to sweets, so try swapping for the dairy in savory preparations, too. Just make sure you are using unsweetened oat milk and a brand with a neutral flavor. Use oat milk to add a touch of creaminess to soups like cream of mushroom or butternut squash soup. You can also mix it into mashed potatoes for a rich, dairy-free version of your favorite side dish.

When Not to Use Oat Milk in Place of Regular Milk

You can't use oat milk in place of heavy cream, so don't try to make whipped oat milk or anything that includes whipped cream, like many mousses. Be wary with custards like flan or creamy gelatin dishes—using oat milk may mean it does not set exactly as you expect. This might be a matter of opinion, but unless you are using a specifically dairy-free recipe, avoid oat milk in mac and cheese, quesos, and other cheesy dishes. And don't swap oat milk for coconut milk in curries.

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