As part of my lifelong quest to live more sustainably, I prefer a non-dairy milk alternative. While I’m a proud omnivore, I do recognize that the cows producing dairy milk also produce tons of carbon emissions and contribute to climate change. Being that I only used it for lightening coffee or baking, an alternative that doesn’t quite taste like the original stuff wasn’t a big deal.
In the early years of my alt-milk search, I hated the taste of soy milk. I’m also allergic to nuts (no almond or pistachio for me), so I was pretty much out of luck until I was introduced to oat milk in 2018. My local barista added a splash of Oatly to my iced coffee for me to taste, and I haven’t looked back since. It doesn’t taste like dairy milk per se, but at it’s best, it’s reminiscent of the delicious last slurp of cereal milk.
In the years I’ve been drinking what’s essentially squeezed oat water, I’ve tried countless brands and varieties, so let me walk you through the basics and introduce you to my faves.
Just How Sustainable Is Oat Milk?
Oat milk (or oat beverage, depending on who you ask) requires much less land and water to produce when compared to dairy milk. Among other alt-milks options, made of ingredients like almonds or pea protein, oat milk sits right in the sweet spot between having a low ecological footprint, and being widely available in cafes and grocery stores. So, if you’re switching from dairy to oat milk, you’re definitely making a difference in terms of how much emissions your latte habit creates, but it’s more marginal if you’re switching from rice or soy milk.
Is Oat Milk Healthy?
It depends. Oat milk has more fiber than almond milk and is usually fortified with nutrients like Vitamin B12, but also contains plenty of calories and carbohydrates. If you’re a health-conscious oat milk drinker, you may want to reach for an unsweetened version, as some have added sugars or stabilizers to help maintain their texture while pouring into coffee or frothing.
Whichever one you buy, here are some of the best options from Oatly to Costco.
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The Best Gluten-Free Oat Milk
This versatile oat milk is one I reach for consistently while doing my grocery shopping. It’s widely available, isn’t too thin or viscous, and has a subtle, not-too-sweet taste. It’s also one of the most versatile as it doesn’t separate in my hot coffee, blends smoothly into my cold brew, and even holds up in a bowl of cereal without tasting overwhelmingly like oats on oats. Califia Farms also has a solid barista version that’s shelf stable and is easier to froth and foam for your latte needs.
The One Your Barista Uses
Oatly is arguably the original status oat milk, which has grown in just a few short years from advertising its milk alternative on bus benches to creating one of the weirdest Super Bowl ads in recent memory. It’s also the oat milk of choice at Starbucks, which led to a shortage earlier this year. The company has also come under fire for claims of “greenwashing”, so that’s another thing to keep in mind.
That said, it froths almost better than dairy milk and has an easy-to-drink texture that does well in cereal and smoothies, but it’s too sweet for my taste. While it’s not my favorite, it’s undeniable that some folks really, really like it.
The Budget Pick
Look, hear me out. I know Kirkland Signature isn’t the most glamorous purveyor of gourmet goods, but their oat milk is the best deal at less than $2 a quart. It’s also shelf stable, so you can bulk buy (because Costco) and have a stockpile. The beverage itself is a lot thinner than others I’ve tried, which is less ideal in lattes (it isn’t really able to foam at all) but it’s fine in an iced coffee. Like Oatly, I found this one to be on the sweeter side, but I don’t mind it as much due to the thinner texture.
The Oat Milk With the Least Ingredients
Since shelf stable oat milks are kept on store shelves rather than in a refrigerator, they often have added stabilizers that keep it fresh. However, Elmhurst’s “milked oats” is shelf stable and only has three ingredients: filtered water, oats, and a little salt (for taste). Given the lack of added flavoring or sugar, it’s pretty neutral tasting. It also lacks the creamy mouthfeel and texture I’ve come to expect. But if you have dairy restrictions, this is ideal as it has no gluten, thickeners, or artificial flavors. On the downside, it comes off as a little bland on the rare occasions that I’ve had it by the glass (aka when trying to put out a hot sauce-induced fire in my mouth.)
The Problematic Fave
I first discovered Minor Figures Oat Milk while shopping for groceries with Imperfect Foods. It quickly replaced Oatly as it’s a little less sweet, is shelf stable and foams like a dream. Minor Figures also offsets its carbon emissions, so it felt good to know that my habit was a carbon neutral one. When it came to taste, I loved how there wasn’t an overwhelming “oat” taste and it hits the optimal “not-too-sweet” spot that lends a bit of body and flavor to your coffee.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. The brand was embroiled in controversy when it undertook a large scale wheat pasting ad campaign in cities like Philadelphia, and Portland, and covered up murals and other street art in the process. Philly’s art community was, understandably, livid, and Minor Figures’ lackluster first apology didn’t exactly help things. They’ve since apologized (again), but I probably won’t be picking up this oat milk again. But if you want to give it a chance, I won’t judge you. It’s just that dang good.
This oat milk has only four ingredients: oats, water, vanilla, and salt. It also uses organic whole oats, so Willa’s Kitchen gets extra points for being on the healthier side. Thanks to the vanilla, it doesn’t taste like oaty water, and is surprisingly creamy in coffee. Plus it works well if you’re using it for baking. The only downside is that this oat milk is a bit expensive at $10 a pop.
The Best Creamy Oat Milk
While one of the best things about oat milk is that it doesn’t feel or taste like milk, sometimes I crave a glass of something that more resembles dairy without ravaging my stomach. That’s where Planet Oat comes in. The best way to describe it is THICC. The viscosity more resembles heavy cream than oat water, and drinking it straight leaves a little bit of a weird film on the tongue, but it’s the closest drink to actual whole milk that I’ve tried. This is the one I reach for whenever I make hot chocolate, or chai lattes, as it helps add a silky texture without too much effort.
A Great Organic Pick
My roommate’s partner introduced me to this oat milk, since it’s their favorite gluten-free pick. They use this one in cereal, as a milk substitute while baking, and more. It doesn’t froth as well as Oatly or Minor Figures’ barista versions, but it tastes and feels pretty darn close to dairy. If using Rise’s oat milk to make a latte sounds like too much work for you, they also make a pretty solid canned oat milk latte.