My Experiments With Milking Plants
By Daniel Strauss
This cartoon was my first exposure as a child to the concept of non-dairy milk alternatives: After all the milk wells on the planet of Felina had gone dry, Overcat came to Earth and stole all the cows, taking them back to his home planet. Underdog saved the day by returning all the cows and the reluctant milkmaid, Sweet Polly Pure Breed, to Earth. He defeated Overcat and got him banished from Felina. Underdog then took coconut trees and planted them all over Felina so the cats could have milk that grows on trees, thus defeating evil and solving the milk problem for all those cats.
Recently I have harkened back to my childhood and have been trying to “save the day” with milk substitutes from plants.
My first experiment used soybeans. I planted seed for edamame soybeans but ended up letting them mature and dry. I soaked 1/2 cup of dry soybeans in 1 1/2 cups of water overnight. In the morning I dumped the soybeans into a blender and added 3 cups water. (There is a debate as to whether you should use the water the beans soak in or not. The water contains phytic acid, which is found in the bean. This acid is not digestible and not harmful by itself, but is thought to bind to, and remove from the digestive system, nutrients that are beneficial to the body. Whether one uses the soybean water or not is a case of “do as you think best.”) Blend the beans into the water until as smooth as possible. I strained the mixture through cheesecloth into a container then returned the pulp (okara) and foam to the blender and repeated the procedure with 2 cups water. After straining the milk out of that, I again repeated the process with 1 cup water and strained that through the cheesecloth. The remaining okara can be used in veggie-burgers or other vegetarian dishes. The raw milk now needs to be boiled for 2 to 3 minutes to rid it of the raw bean taste. During the cooking process I added 1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar for sweetening. After cooking, I added a teaspoon of vanilla then cooled in the refrigerator and drank. Many add honey or other sweeteners and spices depending on their preferences. It’s best to use the milk in about four days. You may need to stir or shake the milk if solids settle to the bottom.
I got to reasoning, which is dangerous, if it works for soybeans why not other types of beans? So next, using the same procedure, I tried red kidney beans and after that black beans. I read on the Internet that some swear by this kind of bean milk. After trying it I was more likely to swear at it. I have tasted worse things, but I don’t quite remember when. I’m sure other types of beans might taste fine, but I used what I had available. So I’ll leave you to experiment with other types.
Oat milk was my first grain milk experiment. I read of two ways to make it. The first is like beans, soak the husked oat grain (groat) in water overnight. I didn’t have that, but you can use steel cut oats or rolled oats. I used quick oats. The night before I put 1/4 cup of oatmeal in 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water to soak. In the morning I put the mixture into the blender, and mixed it until thoroughly blended. The amount of water will determine how thick or thin the milk will be. It was then strained through cheesecloth, and I added 1 1/2 teaspoons of brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, a pinch of salt and a pinch of cinnamon. You may wish to adjust or alter the flavorings to suit your tastes.
The second method to make oat milk is to cook it. I took 1/4 cup oatmeal and cooked it in 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water. Again, the amount of water will determine how creamy or thin the milk will be. I tend to like creamy milk. I strained the mixture through the cheesecloth separating the liquid from the meal. The meal then can be added to bread or muffins; and to the liquid, the aforementioned flavorings are added. It is left to cool in the refrigerator. Try both methods; half of my family likes it raw, while the other half likes the cooked method. It also makes nice chocolate milk; the flavor is very reminiscent of “no bake” chocolate-oatmeal cookies.
Rice can be used either raw or cooked to make milk. The raw method requires soaking the rice overnight. I used a 1/2 cup of rice soaking in 2 cups water. In the morning it was run though a blender and strained in cheesecloth with sugar and a pinch of salt added. Some recommend roasting the rice first to a golden brown color. I was unhappy with this method. The second method required bringing a 1/2 cup of rice in 2 cups of water to a boil, then turning the heat down and simmering it for 15 to 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes were up, I turned off the burner and let the rice still soak up steam for another 10 minutes. After cooling, I put it in the blender with 1 cup water, 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar and a dash of vanilla or cinnamon and mix well, cool and drink. You can strain it but I didn’t and it was slightly gritty. I used white rice but brown rice works as well. This milk could be modified to make rice ice cream (or rice cream as it is called). I did some limited experiments but haven’t perfected it yet.
I researched wheat milk but didn’t find much. What I did find was a doctor in India whom I couldn’t understand. After watching the video, I guessed that the grains of wheat should be soaked in water overnight, then put in a blender with more water then strained into a glass. I would suspect, to be acceptable to American tastes, an added sweetener and a flavor (like vanilla) might be desired. After thinking about this I got the idea to use flour. I used 1 tablespoon of flour mixed into 1 cup of cold water with a 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar. In a saucepan I brought the mixture to a boil, stirring it continually. Once thickened, I took it off the burner and added 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. It is basically a sweet white sauce. I cooled it and tried it. It was nothing to write homesteading magazines about, but it might have its place on a wheat cereal.
I attempted corn milk at first using grits, when that didn’t work well, I tried just cornstarch. That didn’t fair well either. Then I cooked corn flour—that tasted like I was drinking a taco shell. I then concluded that using fresh corn while in the milk stage of development would be my best bet. I looked on the Internet and others had the same idea before me. The instructions are 1 ear of corn with kernels cut off into a blender with 1 cup of water, blend and strain. If the corn is not a sweet corn a little sweetener may be needed. This is not really a milk replacement, rather a summer drink. Some even used the milk as a mixer with alcohol. Since this milk project was a winter project, I have not yet tried corn milk and will have to wait until corn is in season.
Other grains like barley, buckwheat and millet can also be made into milk. I did not try these. The recipes I found used both cold soaking overnight, cooking the grain, or a combination of both, then blending and straining. Using the same principles as above, one can experiment with these grains. As with any grain, roasting or sprouting the grain before milking, can give a different flavor and may unlock some nutrients. Again, dumping off the water the grains were soaked in was recommended, and some added lemon juice to the soaking water to “make the nutrients more available.”
I didn’t experiment at all with seeds, but many seeds can be used to extract milk. I did find recipes though. Most required you to soak the seeds six to eight hours (or overnight), dump the water they were soaked in, then add the seeds and water to a blender, mix and strain. Then add sweetener, salt and a flavor like vanilla according to your tastes. No cooking was needed. Most used 4 cups of water for every cup of seed. Personally, I would start with 2 cups water and then add water until it was the thickness I desired. The seeds I found were sesame, sunflower, poppy, pumpkin and hemp. Hemp was the only one where soaking wasn’t required. I would also reason if pumpkin seed was fine so would any winter squash seed.
Nut milk is made by soaking the nuts overnight (12 hours) in water. In the morning dump off the soaking water, add nuts to the blender, add 4 cups hot, but not boiling, water and mix until smooth. Strain through a cheesecloth, and add sweetener, vanilla, and cinnamon to taste. Nuts with a thin paper coating like almonds are recommended to be blanched first and the dark paper-like coating removed. The different types of nut milk I found were made from almond, peanut, cashew, pecan, walnut, pistachio, pine nut, hazelnut, Brazil nut and macadamia nut. Some recommended toasting the nuts first, and others suggested that not all nuts needed to be soaked. Basically on the list of nuts above, everything after pistachio didn’t require soaking first. I would probably err on the side of caution and soak all nuts myself.
I attempted to make potato milk. The basic recipe is cooked potatoes in a blender with water and then straining. I tried this and was not very satisfied; it was like drinking potato water.
This next experiment was done more to save face. My wife caught me refreshing my memory by watching Underdog cartoons on YouTube. When I was questioned about it, my daughter came to my rescue saying, “He’s doing research.” So I felt obligated for my final milk experiment to make coconut milk. Since shredded coconut was easily available I took 1/4 cup of coconut and soaked it for 2 hours in 1 cup of water. Afterward, the soaking water and coconut were put into a blender and mixed. The coconut mixture was then strained though a cheesecloth. You can save the remaining coconut and use it in cooking or baking. (I saw some recipes that avoided soaking by putting hot water directly into the blender with the shredded coconut. Judging from the online recipe, you may not get quite as much milk from the coconut with this no-soak method.) The coconut I used was “sweetened flake” coconut. It needed no extra sweetener. Everyone thought it was probably the best tasting milk we had tried. I am assuming if one were to use actual raw coconut some kind of sweetener might be needed. Some roast the coconut first to increase the coconut flavor of the milk.
Of the milks I made, coconut milk came in first. Oat milk came in next. Third place was rice milk and soy milk ended in fourth. After a couple of days in the refrigerator the rice and oat milk thickened a bit more and had to be thinned. All made nice chocolate milk, which is what I secretly wanted to accomplish with my research, and everyone agreed that they would work on cereal. We will probably seldom make coconut milk since they are not readily available. Oat and rice milk will probably be made most often since it is easy to acquire. The soymilk was least desired, as my daughter hesitantly put it, “I guess it’s fine. …” Then she added, “…if you’re desperate.”
Most milks mentioned above are said to last three to four days in the refrigerator, and if the milk solids settle, just stir or shake the milk before you drink. If you plan to make a milk substitute regularly, a purchase of a “nut milk bag” would be handy. They are available at most health food stores or an online search will turn up a few places to buy them. I used whatever blender I had available, but again if making milk becomes a continuous thing, a good powerful blender might be a good addition to your kitchen. I suspect many of the milks mentioned are more like alternative drinks rather than milk substitutes. Corn milk and peanut milk come to mind as an example. Feel free to mix milks or use more than one item in making milk. You may need to soak some things separately since one grain, bean or seed uses the soaking water while other items need to have the soaking water dumped. The recipes I used were scaled down for experimental reasons. If you wish to make more of one kind of milk, the recipes can be easily increased to make lager quantities. Lastly, with the information you can easily experiment with nuts, beans and seeds that are not mentioned here, who knows you might come up with a new type of vegetable milk.
After all is said and done, I will be the first to confess that dairy milk is superior to the plant-based milks above. So why make non-dairy milk? Some people, like myself, can no longer drink dairy milk and an alternative is desirable. Others would like to be as self-sufficient as possible, yet a lack of space, or a zoning problem in an urban or suburban location, may make raising a dairy animal impossible. Still others, due to age or physical disability, may find it difficult to manage an animal, but they would have no problem with a garden. So, if dairy milk isn’t in your world, with the above research, you can still be a cool cat, sit in the shade of a tree, and sip a suitable milk substitute.