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The Best Oat Milk
Oat milk sales are skyrocketing. With so many products on the market, which one is the best?
Top PicksSee Everything We Tested
What You Need To Know
Twenty years ago, dairy-free milks were relegated to natural foods stores, but today they’re mainstream. Oat milk is one of the fastest growing nondairy milks, according to data from SPINS, a wellness-focused market research company. Its popularity is due to several factors. First, it has a naturally sweet and nutty flavor. Second, it’s a welcome alternative to other dairy-free milks for people with tree nut or soy allergies. Finally, it makes less of an environmental impact to produce than many other milks, and it requires significantly less water to produce than cow’s milk and almond milk do, according to BBC News.
Oat milks come in different styles: original, extra-creamy, low-fat, unsweetened, and "barista" blends intended for whipping into foam for lattes or cappuccinos. We chose six nationally available brands of oat milk, narrowing down the lineup to original styles that don't list sugar as an ingredient (but that doesn't mean they're sugar-free—more on that later). We tasted the mix of refrigerated and shelf-stable products plain and then in coffee.
How Is Oat Milk Made?
Oat milk is simple to make at home—just process a mixture of oats, water, and salt in a blender and strain it. However, homemade oat milk lasts for only several days in the refrigerator, and consumers appreciate the convenience of buying commercially made oat milks. The process of making oat milk on an industrial scale is more complicated, and most of the company representatives we spoke with declined to reveal the specifics of their processes. But by examining the labels of the products we tasted, we were able to draw some conclusions about general similarities across brands. Enzymes are typically added to the oat-water mixture to break down some of the oats' starch into sugar, and the mixture is usually strained to remove oat bran and other oat solids. Many manufacturers also add nutrients such as calcium and vitamins A, D, and B12 to mimic the vitamins found in or added to cow’s milk; salt is also added. Some manufacturers add gums, oils, and emulsifiers to give the milks body, make them smooth, and prevent separation. All the manufacturers use ultra-high temperature (UHT) processing to pasteurize their oat milks; this process heats the milks to 280 degrees for just a few seconds to kill off potentially harmful bacteria.
For Smooth Oat Milk: Include Additives and Remove Oat Bran
Some of the oat milks we tasted were thin (think skim milk), while others were more viscous (think whole milk). We had a slight preference for the thicker oat milks; additives such as oil and phosphates and thickening agents such as gellan gum gave them both body and richne...
Everything We Tested
Tasters loved this mellow oat milk’s “very faint nuttiness” and “slight oat” flavor. With 7 grams of sugar per serving, it was “not too sweet.” It was “supersmooth in coffee,” in part because of the addition of rapeseed oil, gellan gum, and phosphates. It also produced tender, delicious results when we subbed it for coconut milk in vegan biscuits. One taster said it “seems like a pretty unobtrusive replacement for cow’s milk” and another said “I'd keep this in my milk rotation.”
This oat milk tasted “pleasant,” with a “perfectly reasonable sweetness.” Tasters liked this milk but found it “a little on the thin side,” perhaps because it contains phosphates and gums but not oil. “As an avid milk drinker, I would use this as an alternative,” said a taster.
Our tasters praised this “smooth,” “silky,” and “creamy” oat milk, noting that it had “a bit more body” than some other samples and that it “added a nice creaminess to the coffee.” As for flavor, it had a “pleasant sweetness on the finish.” However, it tasted more strongly of oats than many of the other samples in our lineup, and several tasters said it was “too much oat.”
Recommended with reservations
“This screams ‘I’m made from oats,’” noted one taster. Some people liked its bold oat flavor, but one taster noted, “It's a little strong for me.” This sample was incredibly smooth, and it was on the thicker side. Tasters liked this oat milk plain and in coffee, but when we used it as a replacement for coconut milk in our biscuit recipe, we found the oat flavor overpowering. We suggest choosing a less intense oat milk for baking and cooking, so the oat flavor doesn’t interfere with or dominate the other ingredients’ flavors.
This oat milk had an “enjoyable amount of oat flavor.” However, without any emulsifiers or oils to help improve its drinkability, this sample was deemed “thin,” “watery,” and “a little chalky.” One taster noted that they detected “a little sediment” on their tongue. Tasters also picked up on a sour note, most likely from the extended UHT processing time required for this shelf-stable product.
With 17 grams of sugar per serving—more than double the amount in our favorite oat milk—there was an “overpowering sweetness” that one taster deemed a “true deal breaker.” Most companies remove oat bran during processing, but not this one; the oat bran is added back to this milk for extra fiber. The addition of oat bran gave it an unmistakable “chalkiness.” Although this product includes gellan gum and tricalcium phosphate to help improve texture, it didn’t include any oil, so it was a bit too thin. It’s a shelf-stable product, so it was likely processed longer, which can cause proteins to break down and create the “sour” flavor that tasters noticed.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.