Battle of The Milk Alternatives



It’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.

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22 Responses to “Battle of The Milk Alternatives”

  1. Shoshana Says:

    I loved this post! Where did you find hechshered hemp milk? I have been looking for it at every store. As someone who specializes in parve desserts (but absolutely refuses to use non-dairy creamer) I am always on the lookout for great alternatives. I use all of these (except the hemp milk which I haven’t found) in different recipes, but there is also one more alternative, Mimiccreme, that is AWESOME in parve ice cream and custards and makes great cream based vegetable soups as well. It is made from mostly almonds and cashews, so is a bit high in fat, but is still much lower in fat than dairy cream.

  2. Aliza Donath Says:

    Living Harvest Hempmilk has a teudah. It’s not a mainstream one, so I had to look it up, but it’s there. I think its the Va’ad of Winnipeg. Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Michael Makovi Says:

    Awesome story.

    Here in Israel, my problem is that I can find only the following products:
    — 3% milk
    — 1% milk with vitamins A and D
    — Soymilk with calcium, vitamins A and D, etc. etc.
    — Rice milk with nothing
    — Rice milk with calcium

    They don’t even have skim milk for crying out loud!!!!! So which one of the above should I choose? I can either get unnecessary saturated fat from the milk, or I can get estrogen from the soymilk, or I can drink rice milk but lose out on the extra vitamins…

    But all the above concern is purely for nutrition, irrespective of anything halakhic.

    As for milk after meat, I’m thinking I might just become Dutch and be done with it. In fact, waiting five hours and one minute is a Brisker hiddush contrary to the simple intent of both the Rambam and Shulhan Arukh, so you’re probably not really following the normative halakhah anyway. If so, why not just go the whole way and become either a Yekke (3 hours) or Dutch (1 hour for the Zoharists, 0 hours for the normals – they’d eat ice cream as desert for a meat meal!).

  4. Michael Makovi Says:

    Living in yeshiva is difficult. You have to think very creatively how to get maximum nutrition without being able to cook anything. So far, my solution mostly revolves around whole-seed tehina – iron, calcium, fiber, protein, and unsaturated fat to provide HDL cholesterol and offset the copious amounts of oil and LDL I get from the yeshiva food.

  5. ~M Says:

    Making almond or cashew milk from scratch is actually really easy; and then there are no kashrut questions. The blog Elana’s Pantry has recipes for both, but they do require a high-speed blender (like a vitamix).

    I also noticed that you left out coconut milk (the canned stuff) and So Delicious Coconut Milk beverage.

  6. Aliza Donath Says:

    Coconut milk isn’t a “milk alternative”, it’s like a cocktail made from nothing but the fruit. I use it in cooking when I need coconut flavor (i loooove coconut), but I wouldn’t drink it as milk alternative because of all the saturated fat. I’ve tried so delicious milk beverage, but I wouldn’t use it as alterna-milk for the same reason.

    As for the five hours and one minute, I just do what my family does. Considering we are central European, I’d like to think we’re being safe, certainly waiting more than three hours. If I could spontaneously become dutch I might. But then I’d miss the perks of being Hungarian…. awesome cuisine!!!! And as long as you alternate between soymilk and 1% milk, that is all in moderation, the estrogen shouldnt wreak havoc on you.

  7. Michael Makovi Says:


    Please read the following as a tongue-in-cheek response. I’m just having some fun.

    Hungarian cuisine is awesome? Maybe I just don’t know what Hungarian cuisine is… I’m thinking tons of onions without any other vegetables or spices. I have a friend that she’s a kosher caterer, and one of her favorite topics of discussion is criticizing Ashkenazi cooking. As for myself, I bring cumin and turmeric and sometimes ground habanero to the yeshiva dining hall…

    And again as for myself, I just like criticizing Ashkenazim in general, not unlike Rav Ovadia Yosef (although I eschew following him because I find him too Ashkenazi and too Haredi for my tastes). :P

    Rabbis Hillel Lichtenstein and Akiva Yosef Schlesinger of Hungary declared that anyone giving sermons in German (including the Hirschian German Neo-Orthodox) were idolaters (yes, idolaters!), and they declared that conversion to Judaism is impossible unless the convert grows peyot and speaks Yiddish.

    Over in the world of Lithuanian Ashkenazim, we find kiddush cups doubling in size and a requirement to eat two full sheets of matzah in two minutes.

    No wonder that Professor Michael Silber entitled his titled, “The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Invention of a Tradition”.

    And Rabbi Yitzhak Shmelkes of Ukraine, in his Beit Yitzhak, overturned centuries of precedent and tradition in the laws of conversion, and declared that conversion to Judaism requires acceptance of halakhic observance. Rabbi Shmelkes relied on the Hagahot Mordekhai, who himself admitted that he was deviating from the tradition of his teachers and was not to be relied on. By contrast, we find Rabbi D. Z. Hoffman in 19th century Germany (the home of Reform!!) converting a non-observant woman, saying that her very coming to the Orthodox beit din for conversion by itself is enough observance for her conversion, and we find Rabbi Benzion Uziel (a Turkish Judeo-Spanish Sephardi who served in Israel and Salonika, Greece) advocating the conversion of non-observant gentile spouses of Jews. In fact, according to Rambam in Hilkhot Issurei Biah, King Shlomo’s wives never abandoned idolatrous worship but were nevertheless kosher converts!

    And whereas the Jews of Sarajevo (Bulgaria) and Rhodes (Greece) – both of Judeo-Spanish Sephardi tradition – opened new rabbinical seminaries incorporating secular studies, without any controversy whatsoever, the Hungarians were aghast when Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer wanted to do the same; as one Hungarian Hasidic rabbi put it, it is enough secular knowledge for a Jew to know how to sign his name in a foreign language.

    So I myself am quite loyal to the German Neo-Orthodox and to the Judeo-Spanish Sephardim (Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Italy, Holland, England).

    But to each his or her own. What’s in Hungarian cuisine that you like?

  8. Aliza Donath Says:

    Please don’t be offended by the response: It is not meant disrespectfully, just a response to the previous comment.

    Spoken like someone who doesn’t know anything about Hungarian food. It is absolutely not dull and in fact is one of the spiciest and most diverse of European cuisines. The main spices are Paprika (which is a lot more flavorful than the bland stuff you get here and comes in two varieties: sweet and hot), Ginger, Garlic and cloves. Hungarian main dishes also include tomato cabbage potato various meats peppers apples plums and apricots.
    Desserts are a whole other world and the best ive ever had flavored with lemon, butter, sour cream, vanilla cinnamon and rum. You cant duplicate it anywhere and the so called Hungarian bakeries Ive encountered in New York do not do it justice. Please give it a try first next time.I also happen to dislike what you call “Askenazic cooking”, but Hungarian food, real Hungarian food, is great.

    I’m not sure why you brought up Rabbis and such here since it doesn’t have to do with the article. But generalizing the largest Jewish community in central Europe seems a tad off, like generalizing Jews in general on a smaller scale.

  9. Simcha Daniel Burstyn Says:

    Excellent, thanks! In the US, I favored the supermarket brand of organic soymilk, even though I could drink Lactaid milk (other than after a meat meal – which my wife and kids wouldn’t eat more than twice a week). Here in Israel, I prefer Tnuva soy milk, natural flavor. Unfortunately, it’s all full-fat.

  10. Michael Makovi Says:


    You know, I’m sorry. I’ve been doing a lot of research on the topic I pontificated on above, and I’ve been having a lot of debates with people about it, and the result is that I’m getting a very short fuse.

    The general argumentative nature of Israeli society doesn’t help. (A friend of mine told me that he was taking a taxi with a friend of his, and his friend, she argued with the taxi driver the whole way, quite vehemently. So vehemently, in fact, that the driver pulled over to the side and stopped driving at one point so that he could argue better. My friend asked her (his friend) what she was doing, arguing so ardently, and she answered, “I’m trying to make friends so that we get a lower fare.”)

    So I’m sorry about the above.

    I’ll have to see if there’s somewhere to try Hungarian food. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a restaurant billed as such… Would you believe that I’ve been in Israel for three years and been to Tel Aviv for a cumulative total of about six hours? Maybe I’ll have to go exploring and see what I can find…

  11. malach hamovess Says:

    Shoprite Organic unflavored soy milk works great for coffee; it also is an excellent “creamer” for butternut squash soup; and it makes a wonderful base for a mango desert.

  12. Hannah Lee Says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post and the numerous responses! Makes me glad that my kitchen is vegetarian, so that I could use butter in my baking. Has anyone tried making fresh soy milk, without the added sugar? I’ve only tasted it with lots of sugar, but the fresh is much better than the boxed kind.

  13. Adi Says:

    @Michael Makov:

    “Here in Israel, my problem is that I can find only the following products:
    — 3% milk
    — 1% milk with vitamins A and D
    — Soymilk with calcium, vitamins A and D, etc. etc.
    — Rice milk with nothing
    — Rice milk with calcium”

    Are you kidding? You’ve been there for 3 years and haven’t seen skim milk?? I was there last year and they were still selling the cardboard container with purple accents that was 0% made by Tnuva (looks like this container, with purple in place of the green: The large groceries in downtown Jerusalem carry it, ones like Supersol/Shufersal and Mister Zol etc.


  14. Adi Says:

    argh..make that: (with no parenthesis..)

  15. Michael Makovi Says:

    Well, I’m in Petah Tiqwa, and I’m not about to shlep down to Jerusalem for milk, unless I buy 20 cartons of UHT at once.

  16. Michael Makovi Says:

    There was actually an article in the JPost a few months ago, about 3% milk in Israel not being fortified with vitamins A and D, with only 1% and skim being fortified. Very strange. I have a frum dentist friend in America, and one day, he started kvetching about how the stupid Israelis don’t fluorinate their water.

  17. Hannah Lee Says:

    We in Pennsylvania do not have fluoridated water either. It’s still a political topic.

  18. shirley Says:

    well, it may be all right to get around the law and cook meat in milk
    if you think so
    Maybe it is a rabbinical law
    and not a Torah law
    But here i smy feeling:
    it is more sensitive to the life of an animal to think of the saying “do not cook a kid in his mother’s milk” tells me that it is more sensitive to my consciousness to know that I am not boiling a baby of a mother in the very life giving milk of the creature

  19. Aliza Donath Says:

    I completely agree with you, Shirley. It’s one of the things I love about Judaism is this concept of though we’re eating the meat, we’re being sensitive to its life…

    The Halakhic question was about cooking meat in almond milk, though, which has no dairy in it. It’s not breaching the law, but someone might think it was milk.

  20. Michael Makovi Says:

    Plus, in Judaism, we don’t poleaxe the animal to kill it painfully, we don’t kill it before it’s child’s eyes (or vice versa), we don’t attach a shackle to its leg and hoist it into the air, we don’t let workers operate without proper safety precautions… (v’ha-meivinim yavinu – those who understand will understand).

  21. susan g Says:

    Estrogen? It’s been mentioned several times as being “in soymilk.” This is not the kind of estrogen that the human body (male and female) makes. The form of plant estrogen found in soy helps the human body balance estrogen content. The hitch is that excessive use of soy can upset the balance. Soymilk should not be used in the (misguided) way that Americans sit down and drink a quart of milk, for instance. Moderate amounts. I like Eden’s unsweetened, made from soybeans and water. Again, I don’t worry about the fat content as long as I’m using it in moderation. It’s just a bean.

  22. Tovah A Says:

    Hey Aliza! Shoco just told me about this article, and as a lactard it interested me. I have never heard of hemp milk. I have recently seen oat milk it is made by the same company that makes rice dream hence the name oat dream. Have you tried it?

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