In India, milk is part of the religion and culture, but there are also plant-based alternatives available which don’t include preservatives or additives. These offer plenty of potential, including creative flavours which can be used in cooking.
Few foods are as integral to Indian culture and religion as milk. Despite their more traditional animal-based origins, brands such as “Sofit” and “Staeta” offer many people a real alternative to cow’s milk with their soy and almond milk products. It is exciting that the majority of customers are not vegans, but rather those interested in veganism who are looking for an alternative to conventional milk for health or ethical reasons. This development is bringing nut milk varieties, which are becoming increasingly popular throughout the world, to the fore. It is also putting increasing pressure on the European dairy industry.
For the founders of the vegan milk brands “Goodmylk” and “SAIN”, the search for affordable dairy alternatives began with personal interest. “We wanted to make plant-based food affordable and accessible,” says Abhay Rangan, founder of Goodmylk – a producer of almond and peanut milk – from Bengaluru.
Delhi-based Sheena Jain began producing her own almond milk under the SAIN brand when she could not find almond milk in the local market. Today it distributes a variety of flavours, including cardamom, vanilla, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and pumpkin seed to consumers in Delhi and Gurugram. “Almond milk tastes light, although with its relatively high fat content it is richer. It fits perfectly into Indian cuisine and sometimes even replaces cream in curries,” says Jain.
But Indians go even further by experimenting with other plant sources, such as milk from watermelon seeds, hemp, oats and cotton seeds. Cottonseed milk in particular – known as “Paruthi Paal” – is a high-protein staple food in Madurai.
Regardless of the many available substitutes, vegan milk still requires some getting used to. Anushree Kamath, founder of Bengaluru-based milk alternatives company “The Happy Calf”, says: “When I offered coffee with hemp milk to participants in one of my workshops, they immediately tasted the strong earthy taste of the milk[-alternative]. It is admittedly a taste that takes getting used to.”
By combining different types of vegan milk, however, it is possible to adapt the taste to one’s own preferences. While regular, hot coffee tastes best with a combination of cashew and almond milk, cold coffee is best enjoyed with a cashew-coconut milk blend, according to “THE HINDU”.
And sweetening, too, is a new way of doing things. Dates and honey are important ingredients. In the “Nourish Health Bar” in Gurguam, these are used in combination with cardamom and cinnamon instead of artificial sweeteners.
According to Manoj Kumar Dhillon, the calorie and protein content of vegan milk are important parameters for health awareness. And although the different vegan milk varieties are rich in certain nutrients, according to Delhi-based nutritionist Ira Rattan Khanna, different plant milk alternatives can be combined to ensure dairy-style levels of nutrients.
So far, the biggest problem with fresh, vegan milk alternatives in India is probably their very limited shelf life. “Goodmylk” is one of the few brands offering shelf-stable products with a shelf life of up to 120 days. The supplier Cowvathi, on the other hand, only delivers if the customer is within a five kilometre radius of the production site. For longer distances, collection is preferred.
“We make the milk one hour before the scheduled delivery or collection time,” says Jain, who insists on taking orders one day in advance – she also offers a subscription for 50 bottles.
Customers in India can expect further plant-based milk creations in the future. Kamath, for example, has currently suspended orders for a few months as they are experimenting with ragi (crabgrass) and millet milk to achieve a longer shelf life. The developments at “SAIN” are ongoing; they will soon be offering flavoured almond and coconut milk with cardamom and turmeric.