As soon as I started writing this column in 2009, people started asking me where to find plant milk, cheese, or ice cream. No one asks me that anymore. Instead, the question I have now is which vegan dairy products to buy. The abundance of options is overwhelming.
Last month, The New York Times ran an article on vegan milks under a headline asking “Have We Peaked for Plant Milks?” Then he quickly answered his own question: “Not Even Close”. With pumpkin seeds, tiger nut, and — arriving in U.S. grocery stores later this year — potato milk, the possibilities for plant-based milk seem to span the entire plant kingdom.
According to Julie Emmett, senior director of market development for the Plant Based Food Association, there has been “tremendous growth in the broad category of plant-based dairy products, including cream, yogurt and cheese.” Plant-based milk is the largest vegan dairy category, accounting for 16% of all milk sales in 2021.
“The plant-based dairy category has really benefited from ingredient innovation, expanded in-store placement and merchandising strategies that integrate plant-based products alongside their conventional counterparts. “, said Emmett.
In 1991, when I joined the vegan team, the best-stocked grocery stores typically only carried one brand of vegan milk, Edensoy, and one vegan ice cream, Tofutti. And I thought that was a big deal. Aerosol-propelled vegan whipped cream didn’t exist, vegan butter meant vegetable oil margarine, and no one outside diehard food circles had ever heard of soy yogurt or vegan parmesan cheese. Today, all of these herbal categories, and many more, are seeing phenomenal growth in their products.
For example, over the past year, classic French supermarket cheese brands Boursin and Babybel (which typically sell in deli aisles) have each launched vegan versions. The “dairy-free” Boursin spreadable variety made its debut last fall, and Babybel, which first marketed its red wax-coated mini cheese wheels in the 1970s, unveiled its cheese wheels. ‘vegetable’ (and coated in green wax) in the 1970s. UK this Veganuary. Babybel should be launching plant-based mini-cheeses in the United States any day (if it hasn’t already already).
Meanwhile, major US vegan cheese brand Miyoko’s Creamery is gearing up to bring its cultured, plant-milk cottage cheese to market later this year, and Milkadamia plans to sell single-serve vegan creams to customers soon.
Somewhere out there I think to myself as I envision vegan cheese and lazily scroll through my food-heavy social media feed, there must be a cow’s milk dairy product that hasn’t been vegan . Next thing I know, I’m looking at an article from Monte’s Fine Foods in Portland praising Flora Professional Plant Cream. Monte’s, which produces vegan baked goods at its Italian bakery at the intersection of Washington and Ocean avenues, said the heavy cream “whips beautifully and has the mouthfeel and taste of dairy cream – you can also use it in any recipe (including baked goods) calling for heavy cream in a 1:1 ratio.” And just like that, I was reminded that I don’t live in the 1990s anymore. , and just about everything that can be made with cow’s milk has been made with plants.
Reports from the recent Natural Products Expo West, held in Anaheim, Calif., in March, confirm the continued expansion of vegan dairy products. Many brands used the Expo West event as a springboard for new plant-based milk offerings, including oat-based versions of Nature’s Charm canned condensed milk and whipped cream, cheese spreads (including including queso) from Melt Organic, blocks of feta from Daiya, vegan cheese powder, sauce mixes from the spice brand Simply Organic, wedges of blue cheese and vegan brie from Nuts for Cheese, sandwiches with vegan ice cream from GoodPop and vegan mochi ice cream from Buono.
The Plant Based Food Association held its last trade show in New York in December, and new dairy products were on display everywhere. “There was plant-based soft serve ice cream, ready-to-drink coffees and teas with plant-based milks, and an incredible variety of butter and cheese that tasted amazing,” Emmett said.
To witness the current vegan dairy tsunami, just walk into any local grocery store and you’ll find a surprising number of vegan dairy products mingling with cow’s milk versions. Shaw’s and Hannaford have long sold their own house brands of plant milks. Since Whole Foods Market opened its Portland store in 2007, it has sold a line of plant milks under its private label, and now its parent company, Amazon, has started selling its own brand of almond milk. In recent years, Whole Foods has also added an in-house line of vegan sliced and shredded cheeses.
Vegan ice cream flavors are flooding supermarket coolers and popping up in seasonal scoop stores across Maine, where hard-serve and soft-serve vegan ice creams are boosting bottom lines for the companies that carry them.
Obviously, vegan dairy products are everywhere. But the question remains: which vegan dairy products do I recommend? Well, it’s complicated. I definitely have my favorites. However, if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s not to assume that I can always find vegan milk or vegan butter or dairy-free pizza cheese whenever I want it, let alone my favorite brand. .
Over the past two years, plant-based dairy products have suffered from shortages, with increased demand responding to supply chain issues. Pandemic shortages or not, I also know that for many of my friends and family in Maine, especially in rural areas, there are fewer plant-based choices than in downtown Portland, where I live. within walking distance of three health food stores. When I visit my dad in Litchfield or my in-laws’ camp in Limington, local access to vegan dairy products shrinks dramatically. Depending on where I am and what is available, my favorite products change.
For example, when my favorite milk cannot be found, I have to prioritize. I prefer soy milk because, along with pea protein milk, it has the highest protein levels, but I favor organic (since non-organic grains and beans in the US are often air-dried). using the controversial herbicide glyphosate). In my experience, it is easier to find organic almond and oat milk.
Because I’ve lived so many years without it, vegan butter isn’t a necessity in my house, but a treat. (In fact, I find frozen, slightly thawed olive oil a nice alternative.) But these are the days of farmed, artisanal vegan butters, and I’ve indulged in their creamy delights. Finding organic, vegan cheese is tricky (and usually limited to the Miyoko’s Creamery brand), so when it comes to plant-based cheeses, I’m mostly looking for a short ingredient list.
Here, without further ado, are some of my favorite plant-based dairy products.
MILK: Westsoy Organic Unsweetened Plain Soy Milk
I have a fast growing vegan kid in my house who loves milk, and this is my favorite brand. Soy and pea proteins make the best plant milks for children due to their high protein content. Unlike many plant milk brands that add gums as thickeners, Westsoy does not contain gums or fillers. In fact, the milk is made from just two ingredients: water and organic soybeans. The lack of added sugar and flavorings is also key for me. During the pandemic, I had a few failures in the kitchen when I realized too late that the plant milk I had just added to my son’s macaroni and cheese sauce was flavored with vanilla. Lately, Westsoy milks have become much harder to find due to supply chain issues, and if I can find any, there are often less than half a dozen containers left on store shelves.
BUTTER: Miyoko’s Creamery Cultured Vegan Unsalted European Style Butter
Made from cultured cashew milk and coconut oil, this certified organic butter is wrapped in paper inside a cardboard box like traditional butter. It has a rich, complex flavor reminiscent of cow’s milk butter, spreads smoothly and melts well. As I’m not a baker, I haven’t tested the packaging claim that it’s “designed for baking”, but I hear friends say it keeps its word. So far I have only found this butter for sale in health food stores, but I recently learned that Target sells it too. The company has a slight connection to Maine, as founder Miyoko Schinner was one of the hosts of the PBS cooking show Vegan Mashup, which was filmed at the home of cookbook author Toni Fiore in the Maine.
SLICED CHEESE: Violife 100% like vegan smoked provolone slices
A mild cheese with a smoky edge, these slices are delicious with vegan deli sandwiches or melted on a plant-based burger. I use them occasionally to make myself a vegan Italian sandwich, but the real fan in my house is my non-vegan husband, who adds them (or Violife’s cheddar slices) to most of the meals he makes. The cheese, made from coconut oil and food starch mixed with vitamin B12 and beta-carotene, is mild enough for my 9-year-old to enjoy on a grilled cheese sandwich.
SHREDDED CHEESE: 365 Plant-Based Alternatives To Mozzarella Cheese
I love this brand of vegan mozzarella from Whole Foods Market because it melts on pizza, has few ingredients, and is cheaper than many other plant-based shredded cheeses. Like Violife sliced cheese, these chips are made from coconut oil and food starch. I use them regularly on pizzas and sometimes sprinkle them on tacos. The product is comparable to the excellent Violife and Daiya shreds, but when I’m lucky enough to have options, I prefer it over those two because it costs less and tastes very similar.
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. Join her at [email protected]
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