Sometime between refusing to take the cartons of milk at elementary school lunch and sipping on dairy-rich, boozy beverages, I developed a lactose aversion. It's not an intolerance — some products are OK, others require minor medication — but it has proved to be an annoyance. Plant-based milks offer a happy alternative for most occasions. (And you don't need me to tell you that plenty of other people are turning to alternative milks to get their creamy liquid fix.)
Like any annoying food media person, I generally prefer to make a food item rather than buy it. But like many apartment-dwelling, debt-owing millennials, I don't have the room or money for a powerful blender (read: Vitamix) that would make DIY nut milk a breeze. Plus, nuts are expensive. Oats, on the other hand, are cheap — and, as we learned from peas, you can make milk out of basically anything.
"It checks a lot of boxes," says Gregory Zamfotis, founder of the New York-based coffee chain Gregorys Coffee, noting that it is dairy-, nut- and gluten-free, and vegan. "It's free of everything."
At home, you can make decent oat milk with little effort and a non-powerful blender. Yes, I said decent. I'm not here to promise a homemade oat milk that compares to store-bought or something from a cow. But with one cup of rolled oats and plenty of filtered water, you can make an inexpensive and tasty product to use in your coffee, baked goods and savory dishes alike.
Browsing through the top internet results for oat milk recipes and consulting with an oat milk-making co-worker led me down several paths: Should I soak my oats? For how long? Do I add salt, a sweetener? What is the least messy way to strain the finished product? What do I do with the leftover pulp?
First, the soaking: I prefer the flavor and viscosity that results from a 30-minute soak in filtered water. (Filtered is important. You don't want chlorine or any other off flavors in there.) More than 30 minutes yielded a slimy milk reminiscent of mucus. No soaking at all made for a watery, thin beverage with a mouthfeel similar to skim milk. (Fine, but boring.)
Another way to improve the texture: Rinse the oats after they've soaked, a tip gleaned from several vegan-friendly sites, including the Simple Vegan Blog and Small Footprint Family. Blending time matters, too; most recipes say to blend for a minute or two, but I found that a mere 10 seconds did the trick.
Straining was initially extremely tedious because I used a paper towel-lined sieve (my usual way to strain things; see above about being a thrifty millennial). After making a mess and muttering about how milking a cow is surely easier (I grew up on a farm, so I'm allowed to make this joke), I conceded that this was a dealbreaker and moved on to cheesecloth from the office test kitchen. Better, but still finicky — I had to scrape a spoon along the bottom to help the liquid pass through the cloth, which inevitably made a bit of a mess. At last, I gave in and ordered a nut milk bag. I cannot stress enough how easy the nut milk bag (made of food-grade nylon) makes this whole process — you can easily squeeze out most of the liquid with no danger of particles passing through. Even better, it's reusable.
As for the leftover pulp: I've been mixing it into cookie dough and muffin batters; pancakes are next on the agenda. It also makes a nice gloopy face mask with the addition of honey and melted coconut oil.
Now I have a basic, oat-flavored, creamy liquid that I put in smoothies, baked goods, sauces and overnight oats. Heating the oat milk causes it to thicken, which isn't bad in, say, a vegan mac and cheese sauce, but can be unexpected in something such as chai. It's also fun to experiment with flavors: I made a chocolate-espresso version that's delightful straight and a cardamom-ginger that will be fantastic in iced coffee. (More on those below.)
Is this homemade oat milk as good as store-bought? No. But it's almost as good, and the value of making your own is hard to argue against: A half-gallon carton of my favorite brand, Oatly, is around $5; a 42-ounce canister of rolled oats (yielding about 12 cups) is generally around $4, meaning I can make about two-and-a-half gallons of oat milk per canister. The price goes down when I buy oats in bulk. With a price difference like that — and the power to make it from a few pantry ingredients — I'm sold. And once you've tried making your own oat milk, you just might be, too.
If your blender can't hold the oats and 3 cups of water, blend with 1 cup of water and whisk in the final 2 cups after you've strained the milk. You can also use steel-cut oats; soak 1 cup in filtered water for 12 hours, then proceed as directed. For chocolate oat milk, whisk 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons maple syrup and 1/8 teaspoon espresso powder into 1 cup of strained oat milk. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any lumps. For cardamom-ginger oat milk, whisk 2 teaspoons maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom and 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger into 1 cup of oat milk. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any lumps.
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use instant or quick-cooking); may substitute steel-cut oats
3 cups filtered water, plus more for soaking
1/16 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
Place the oats in a mixing bowl and cover with filtered water by 2 inches. Soak for 30 minutes — no longer — then strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse well under cool running water; this yields milk with a better mouthfeel.
Combine the strained, rinsed oats in a blender with the 3 cups of filtered water; blend on medium speed for 10 seconds, and no longer. Strain through a nut-milk bag, preferably, or through several layers of cheesecloth lining a fine-mesh strainer.
Discard or reserve the solids for another use. Add more water to the strained oat milk, as needed. Whisk in salt and optional flavorings, if using. Makes 3 1/2 cups.
— Adapted from various online recipes