Non-dairy milk (aka plant milk) is a cloudy, white beverage with a visual semblance to milk, but made from plant material rather than obtained from animals.
In many jurisdictions, owing to dairy marketing regulations, the term “milk” cannot be used and another term such as “drink” or “beverage” must be used instead, though additional text on the package can describe them as “milk alternatives”. In Europe, some companies have attempted to argue in court that a distinguishing word showing origin such as “almond milk” should be enough to avoid any confusion in consumers’ minds as to what isn’t dairy milk, but courts have rejected their arguments:
“Purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ or ‘yoghurt’, which are reserved by EU law for animal products…. The Court explains that the addition of descriptive or clarifying additions indicating the plant origin of the product concerned, [Editor: such as tofu butter or soy milk] has no influence on that prohibition.” Court of Justice of the European Union. PRESS RELEASE No 63/17. Luxembourg, 14 June 2017. Judgment in Case C-422/16. Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb eV v TofuTown.com GmbH
The inclination today is to think that these are new products, or that trying to call them “milks” is new, but in fact these products go far back in time in our kitchens, and have historically been called milks. Almond milk is a frequent ingredient in European medieval cooking, particularly in Lenten recipes.
The nutritional benefits will not be the same as milk. Those that are grain derived, for instance, will largely be a carbohydrate beverage, with little to no protein and no calcium, though some commercial brands may be fortified in an attempt to match the nutrition in actual milk.
Not all types of non-dairy milk will have the same cooking properties, either. Oat milk, for instance, will thicken in cooking; rice milk will not.
Types of non-dairy milk
|↑1||Court of Justice of the European Union. PRESS RELEASE No 63/17. Luxembourg, 14 June 2017. Judgment in Case C-422/16. Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb eV v TofuTown.com GmbH|