As the popularity of veganism continues to rise, so too has the availability of plant-based alternatives to everyday food and drink items.
Naturally, the offering of dairy-free milk drinks has also vastly improved. There's almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk and, of course, our old friend soy milk.
Now there's a new kid on the block. In February we reported that pea milk was coming to the UK, after Whole Foods revealed it would begin selling The Mighty Society's ‘pea mẙlk’ in its UK stores.
And it's about to become even more widely available. Sainsbury's has announced it will be the first British supermarket to stock the product. The drink is available in two different flavours – original and unsweetened.
So how does pea milk compare to other plant-based alternatives already on the market?
What they say
- 8g of protein per glass (8x more than almond milk)
- 40 per cent less sugar than cow’s milk
- Twice the calcium of cow's milk
- Free from dairy, nuts and soy whilst being high in fibre and low in saturated fat
- It takes 100x more water to farm almonds than peas and 25x more water to farm dairy
Pea milk is made from yellow split peas, which are naturally high in the amino acid lysine (a building block of protein) as well as iron.
And before you picture a green juice-like liquid curdling your morning coffee – pea milk isn't actually green, it's creamy in colour.
We spoke to Dr Hazel Wallace, aka The Food Medic, for the launch of her Little Boosts collaboration with Boots. The author, podcaster and medical doctor regularly shares recipes and nutritional advice with her followers, so we asked her how pea milk measures up to other dairy-free alternatives.
How to pick the right milk for you
"The claims are that it's high in protein, calcium and lower in fat than normal dairy milk, and compared to other plant-based milks, it is quite high in protein with around 8g per serving, but that's very similar to things like soy milk," Wallace told the Standard.
There's no right or wrong when it comes to choosing a milk to suit your lifestyle, "it's a judgement call," she says, pointing out that some products are more environmentally friendly than others.
For example, almond milk, which is primarily grown in California where droughts are common, requires lots of water to produce, "So things like oat milk can be a good alternative [to the former], because it doesn't require all the water and energy to grow," she says.
Oat milk is particularly popular among vegans, acccording to PETA, thanks to its slight natural sweetness, neutral flavour and consistency, which means it steams and froths better than other plant milks.
Generally speaking, however, Wallace says she advises people to drink cow's milk unless there's a reason they can't.
"If you have no problem consuming dairy, i.e. you don't have any intolerances or ethical issues with it, then I would say drink cow's milk, because it's such an important source of protein, calcium and iodine, but I'm very aware that lots of people are going towards a plant-based diet for health and environmental reasons, which is absolutely a positive thing," she says.
The one thing you should always look for when picking an alternative to cow's milk
If you are going plant-based, however, she says there's one thing you should always consider when choosing a product: "Plant milk doesn't offer us all of the nutrients that cow's milk does, so for people who are vegan or can't consume dairy because they're lactose intolerant, it's really important that we encourage them to check the labels for fortification. Plant-based milks are not required to be fortified, but they should be," she says.
Fortification is the process in which vitamins and minerals are added to the base product. The Mighty Society's pea milk, for example, has been fortified with calcium, Vitamin D and B12, but this doesn't mean to say that all pea milk products will be.
Homemade plant milks lack nutrients
This also means if you were to make almond milk at home for example, without fortifying it, you wouldn't actually be getting much goodness from it at all, she says, "It would really just be a lot of water, minimal nutrients, and definitely not as much protein or calcium as what you'd find in cow's milk."
To highlight the importance of the role of fortification, Wallace points to the ongoing campaign from health experts for the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid to prevent fetal abnormalities.
"Folic acid is really important for pregnant women especially in the first trimester to help develop the neural tube of the baby," she explains. "Most women get pregnant and don't realise that they don't naturally get this from their diet and what we're finding is that it's often too late to tell them to supplement their diet with it."
Choosing a plant milk is highly personal, but while a dash of "pea milk" might sound a bit silly with your next Starbucks order, its high protein and calcium content, and the fact that it's nut free is bound to get a thumbs up from some of the plant-based crew.