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Substituting nut milks for cow's milk

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Kathy Kolasa

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Q Can I use almond or coconut milk instead of real milk in baking my cakes? — F.H., Winterville

A Happy, healthy New Year to all of you. As you seek to eat in a healthy way, make sure you really do make healthy substitutions. In this case, the quick answer is that you probably can substitute nut milks for cow’s milk, but you may need to experiment a bit. The nut milk products seem to vary a bit, and so there isn’t a standard substitution. Here is what Ty’lasia Pugh, a senior ECU dietetic student, wants you to know.

We were curious why you wanted to do the substitution because you will change the nutrient value of the cake and possibly the flavor and texture. The nutritional value of each of these milks will differ within a single serving size which is 1 cup. There are several great brands of milk to choose from, but I chose to compare the most common known, Silk coconut, Silk almond milk, and Great Value 2 percent cow’s milk. Note that the nutrient composition of different brands may also vary.

All are fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D; however, the total fat in Silk’s coconut milk and in 2 percent cow’s milk is 5 grams while Silk’s almond milk has 2.5 grams. The total amount of carbohydrate in Silk’s coconut milk is 7 grams; almond milk is 8 grams and 2 percent milk 12 grams.

There is a difference in calories with cow’s milk having the most at 130 calories, coconut has 80 and almond has 60. The experts tell us that the nutritional value of plant-based milks depends on the original source, methods of processing and if the products are fortified. If you don’t eat a lot of baked goods, the difference in nutrients probably isn’t important, but if your baked goods are an important source of nutrients it would be important to make sure you are getting enough fat and carbohydrates. I will talk about the amount of fat and carbohydrates since this can affect taste, texture and the overall composition of the cake.

When substituting cow’s milk with nut milk in cakes, you can substitute in equal quantities for most recipes. The taste or flavor could be altered when using nut milks since they have a distinct taste. It is important to note if you do not want to alter the taste of your cakes, be sure to look for unsweetened coconut or almond milk — that is, with no added sugar or added flavors like vanilla and chocolate — unless you are baking a cake that is harmonious with the flavor of the milk.

Added sugars, which can contain almost 13 grams in almond or coconut milk, can enhance its flavor. Usually almond and coconut milk will not alter the texture of cake, but in cases that it may, more fat such as butter or oil can be added. Unsweetened almond and coconut milk has a little less fat and fewer calories than cow’s milk. Low-fat batters can become overdone and dry very quickly; therefore, they may need less baking time. Approximately 10 minutes before the timer goes off, take a toothpick to check for doneness to prevent overcooking.

For comparisons, I found a white cake recipe online which used coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. The recipe called for 1 package of white cake mix, ¾ cup coconut milk, 3 eggs, ⅓ cup vegetable oil, ¼ cup of water and your choice of frosting. This recipe takes approximately 10 minutes to prepare, and 35 minutes to cook. This same recipe can be done using 1 cup of cow’s milk, 3 eggs, ⅓ cup of vegetable oil, and your choice of frosting.

If you are baking bread, the protein content of the milk may contribute to the texture and size of the air cells in the bread. Nut milks typically are lower in protein than cow or soy milk, so you might find your bread is more compact. If you are making the substitutions because of an allergy, a good resource is the Food Allergy Research and Education network found at www.foodallergy.com.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an Affiliate Professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.

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