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Thursday, November 26, 2020

What’s the best oat milk in the UK? We tested 6 in 6 ways to find out

We took the best oat milks in the UK market and tested them with various recipes to see which would win the ultimate oat milk showdown.

The last year has seen a global uprising in dairy alternatives. We’ve seen new varieties of plant-based milks, a rise in vegan milk sales, and a multi-billion dollar alt-milk empire.

The 2010s may have belonged to almond milk, but oat is coming for the throne. It tastes great, contains natural sugars and healthy fats, foams up well, and is better for the environment. And it’s everywhere. Today is World Plant Milk Day, and to mark the occasion, The Vegan Review tested six of the best oat milk brands in the UK, in six different ways, to see which is the best oat milk that truly comes out on top.

Our oat milk review was a month-long process, and it was worth it. We used Barista versions for Califia Farms, Rude Health and Oatly. Here’s our Ultimate Best Oat Milk Showdown.

What’s it like to drink oat milk plain?

Any test has to start with the unadulterated version. We poured out each oat milk into a clear shot glass, to examine its colour and texture and then drank it straight. A lot of people drink cow’s milk straight up, but which oat dairy-free milks make for the best replacement?

Alpro

alpro oat

It looks like custard and is quite thin. On tasting, it is acidic in an unpleasant way, very off-putting and astringent. It’s like drinking a bad syrup. 2/5

Califia Farms

califia farms ukOddly, it has a slightly chemical taste, with undertones of burnt rubber. But it’s mildly sweet with notes of raisin, and slightly thick. 2.5/5

Innocent

innocent oat milkBy far, Innocent’s oat milk is the thinnest in the lineup. It’s slightly sweet but with a bitter aftertaste. It tastes like mineral water with some oats in it, but that slightly chlorinated water-flavour is dominating. 2.5/5

Minor Figures

minor figuresThis is the whitest and closest to cow’s milk (which isn’t necessarily a factor). But it’s naturally sweet, like dairy, and just thick enough. Minor Figures is easily the best of them all when tasting it straight up. 5/5

Oatly

what does oatly taste likeThis is the creamiest and thickest milk, with the most distinct colour. It has a peachy cream, off-whitish shade, with notes of almond and cardamom, and is naturally very sweet. This is like drinking extra creamy whole milk; a very pleasant experience. 4.5/5

Rude Health

rude health oat milkThis is the most aromatic alternative on this list, giving off a whiff of roasted almonds, but still oat-forward. It’s thick in texture, sweet, and delightful in flavour. 4.5/5

Cappuccino

This is the most important test for a lot of people. Two common complaints about plant-based milks are how they don’t foam up enough and how they curdle when added to light-roasted coffee. The latter doesn’t really apply to oat milk as much as it does to soy or almond, which are more acidic.

The two important things we were looking for with this test were how the oat milks heat and foam up, and what they taste like when added to coffee. And since most homes don’t have an espresso machine steamer, the best way to do the test was using a French Press.

Alpro

does alpro taste good in coffeeWhile it has a slightly thin consistency, it doesn’t break upon heating. It foams up a lot, which can make it difficult to nail the amount of milk to use. But while the foam settles very quickly, the milk surprisingly has a luscious, creamy texture when drinking.

Unfortunately, it tastes more like a white Americano than a cappuccino; very water-forward with a bitter aftertaste. 3/5

Califia Farms

califia farms coffeeThis is wild. While pouring in the coffee, it smells like a very acidic light roasted coffee from Kenya, but when you taste it, it’s both bitter and sweet. Unfortunately, that slightly off-putting, chemical, burnt rubber note comes through. It foams well, and tastes increasingly better with time, but the chemical undertones are always there. 3/5

Innocent

innocent oat milkIt’s not too thick — almost like water — and this separates upon heating. It doesn’t foam up too well, which is expected due to its consistency. But it disintegrates as it sits, with strands of oat flour swimming through. It doesn’t blend too well with the coffee, tasting overly sour and super acidic, overpowering its flavour.

You can taste the oats a lot, due to its freshness and the addition of oat flour, which also leaves caramel-coloured spots in the end. 2/5

Minor Figures

minor figures frothThis froths really well, the foam mixes in with the milk easily, making it homogenous quickly. It is sweet and pleasantly acidic at the same time, complementing the coffee incredibly well. It’s not the thickest, but can certainly hold its own. The only drawback is that it’s slimy at the end, no matter how much you shake it before using it. 4.5/5

Oatly

oatly cappuccinoEasily the thickest milk, it turns quite pale after heating and frothing. But it foams up like a dream; it’s creamy and holds up well. The milk smells very sweet and porridge-like, and tastes great.

It’s very different from the rest, and overtakes and masks the coffee’s flavour a bit. It tastes very porridgy too, but the issue is that the milk is the star, not the espresso. 4/5

Rude Health

rude health frothingThis also has a thick consistency, and shows promising signs of frothing upon shaking initially. It does froth well, but it smells and tastes very floury, too. It’s naturally sweet, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Though the froth doesn’t hold up for as long as one would like, it tastes better as it cools down. 3.5/5

Cold brew

Cold brewed coffee is known for its chocolatey notes and low acidity. It’s very different from espresso, and thus deserves its own test.

When adding oat milk to cold brew, we examined its consistency and flavour.

Alpro

vegan cold brewIt has a light colour, and is the only one that doesn’t fully mix in with the coffee without stirring, forming separate layers. It tastes watery, quite acidic, but definitely coffee-forward.

However, it has a slightly chemical, bitter aftertaste. It’s pleasant at the beginning, but loses flavour as it sits with the ice, unlike the others. 3/5

Califia Farms

califia farms oat milkThis is slightly acidic (in a good way) and really pleasant. It pairs well with the coffee and no signs of the burnt rubber. You get notes of both the coffee and the milk, and it has just about the right amount of thickness. However, it is a little slimy at the end. 4/5

Innocent

innocent milk coffeeIt tastes like a cross between graham crackers and a granola bar. This oat milk is very thin, and almost red, looking like just a splash of milk has been added to the coffee.

At first, it does not have a lot of acidity, but it becomes almost unbearable as it sits. And the taste of oat takes over the coffee. 2/5

Minor Figures

minor figures coffeeThis is marginally acidic and has hints of milk chocolate, adding to the complexity of the flavour. It’s very similar in texture to Califia, complementing the coffee and balancing the flavour well.

It could do with a thicker texture, and is slimier than the rest of the milks, but it’s still by far the best alternative for cold brew. 4.5/5

Oatly

oatly cold brewThere isn’t any acidity, good or bad, at all. It’s moderately sweet, pleasantly oaty, and very creamy. While it’s closest to whole milk in consistency, it doesn’t overpower the coffee’s taste as much as it does in cappuccinos. 3.5/5

Rude Health

rude health cold brewThis is a little bitter, with heavy notes of dark chocolate. It’s also slightly fruity, pretty creamy and mildly oaty. That mellows out as it sits, and there isn’t any unpleasant acidity. 3.5/5

Porridge

Oat milk in oatmeal might sound like overkill, but it actually works. This test focused on how the oat milk heats up, how creamy it is, and how it tastes; all the things that make oatmeal the go-to weekday breakfast.

Alpro

Alpro Oat smells nutty and chocolatey in oatmeal. It thickens well, tastes delicious, and acts as a suitable carrier for the oats without overpowering them. 4/5

Califia Farms

This is super creamy, complements the flavours really well and makes for an incredible carrier for the oats. It is not too naturally sweet, but the texture is fantastic. Having said that, you can still get unpleasant aftertones of that burnt rubber taste. 4/5

Innocent

This smells really fresh and oaty but it doesn’t thicken as much as you’d like. However, while it has no acidic or sour notes, its flavour is nothing exciting. 3.5/5

Minor Figures

This is just creamy enough, with no distinct oaty taste, but no natural sweetness either. Although, compared to the other milks, it is pretty bland. 3/5

Oatly

Strangely, this takes a little longer to thicken. Much like Minor Figures, it tastes bland. The dormant sweetness of the oat milk does not come through enough, but this is the porridge-iest porridge ever. It’s quite creamy, but not our favourite. 3.5/5

Rude Health

This thickens well and smells like milk chocolate. But it tastes quite flat, with a hint of flour; we’re not fans of this one. 2.5/5

Béchamel

No milk is worth its salt if it doesn’t hold up in savoury cooking. And what better to test it in than a classic roux-based béchamel, the king of white sauces?

We used flour and vegan butter to make the roux, and then slowly added the oat milk to turn it into béchamel, which formed a base for a mushroom spaghetti. Consistency, binding strength and taste were the key factors here.

Alpro

oat bechamelThis doesn’t give off any aromas and tastes bland. It doesn’t do anything to add to the rest of the flavours, and, surprisingly, has a bitter aftertaste. 2.5/5

Califia Farms

califia farms cookingThis milk smells like apple cider vinegar with the béchamel. It doesn’t thicken well, and instead has a syrupy consistency. There’s very little actual flavour and zero acidity. While it binds fine, it’s nothing spectacular. 3/5

Innocent

vegan bechamelThis is where Innocent shines. It smells incredible after adding to the roux, like vanilla custard, and acts as a very good carrier for the aromatics and herbs. It leaves a slight tang of acidity, which is a massive plus, contributing to an overall great flavour. 4/5

Minor Figures

oat milk bechamelThis thickens just the right amount. It has a neutral taste, but just like Califia Farms, it has very little flavour, even less actually. It’s good but unexciting. 3/5

Oatly

can i cook with oatlyOatly smells a little vanilla-y, and thickens very quickly (more than the rest) when added to the roux. It could easily replace double cream.

The aroma is quite sweet throughout, but it tastes fantastic. It dominates the dish again, but this time it’s welcome. It has a slightly sweet aftertaste, which could be off-putting. 4.5/5

Rude Health

rude health cookingGiven that there’s flour involved in this dish, this milk smells even more floury than in the other recipes. It doesn’t thicken as quickly, and tastes a little sweet, owing to the oat milk’s natural sugars.

But the sweetness isn’t noticeable once the mushrooms are added to the roux. And while all the other oat milks thicken naturally as they cool, Rude Health does it more than any other, and it tastes delicious. 4/5

Pancakes

To round off the tests, we made pancakes. Fluffy pancakes. This was more focused on the chemical properties of the oat milk than the actual taste.

We added apple cider vinegar to the milk and let it sit for a few minutes to see if it curdles and bubbles up a little, which is what provides the pancakes with the fluffy texture. We used baking powder as well, and examined the consistency, rise, whether it held its shape, and the flavour.

Alpro

alpro milkThis doesn’t bubble too much or curdle. But it still makes for a thick batter. It spreads a little in the pan, but holds its shape and fluffs up a lot. The pancakes taste great too. 4/5

Califia Farms

califia farms baristaThis bubbles a little, but instead of holding its shape, it spreads in the pan. There are no bubbles while it cooks to indicate when to flip the pancake. It cooks relatively quickly, and forms reddish sear marks on the surface. The final pancake is quite flat, but it tastes sweet and porridgy. 3/5

Innocent

innocent veganEven though this has a very thin batter, it holds its shape. It bubbles a little when the vinegar is added, but takes longer to cook than the other milks. It is surprisingly very fluffy, albeit with a stretchy texture. It tastes pleasantly acidic, and its flavour takes the edge over the others in the lineup. 4.5/5

Minor Figures

minor figures ukIt holds its shape, but not its form, spreading a little in the pan, but not flattening entirely. It’s not fluffy enough, and the flavour is nothing exciting. 3/5

Oatly

oat pancakesThis curdles very well, and doesn’t bubble up too much either. It cooks quickly, has a distinct colour, and produces by far the fluffiest pancakes. 5/5

Rude Health

vegan pancakesRude Health’s oat milk reacts a lot when mixed with the apple cider vinegar. The pancake is super fluffy, it holds its shape and bubbles up to indicate flipping. It tastes like a pancake should, and unlike Innocent, isn’t stretchy. 5/5

Price, availability and ingredients

Price, availability and ingredients are other key factors. Most oat milks use around 10% of oats with water, using other ingredients like plant oils, fibres, salt and acidity regulators to round up the list. It was refreshing to note that none of our chosen brands have added sugar or maple syrup for sweetness, something that recipes for homemade oat milk often suggest. We thought that including the ingredients information was more important than rating the milks based on these parameters.

Alpro

Alpro is the cheapest and most widely available; you can find it in most grocery stores around the UK, and its regular price can be as cheap as £1.40. Its Barista version costs £2.00, but can only be found in superstores.

It has a 9.8% oat content, using chicory root for the fibre, sunflower oil and sea salt for texture and flavour, and is fortified with calcium and vitamins.

Califia Farms

Califia Farms has quite a limited availability, which makes sense as it’s only been in the UK for a year. You can find it in Sainsbury’s superstores and online, but will struggle to find it elsewhere. It’s also on the pricier side, at £1.95.

The milk is made up of 10% oats, with added ingredients like sunflower oil, sea salt, acidity regulator and calcium supplements.

Innocent

Innocent is available in most major supermarkets, but less so in the smaller local stores. But unlike the rest, the bottles are 750ml instead of 1 litre, and it costs £1.75.

This is the purest of all milks, comprising 9% oats and 1% oat flour with spring water, citrus plant fibre, and sea salt. It’s the only one on the list not sold in a tetra pack, which also means it has a much shorter shelf life.

Minor Figures

Minor Figures is the hardest to find. You can usually only get it either in higher-end health stores like Holland & Barrett and Whole Foods or online, but it’s gradually appearing in supermarkets like Waitrose. It’s more widely found in cafes, as it’s marketed as a specialty coffee product. It costs £1.79, which is standard.

Its ingredients are almost identical to the Califia Farms milk, with 10% oats, calcium supplements and salt. The only difference on paper is that it contains rapeseed oil instead of sunflower.

Oatly

Oatly is known worldwide, and is only second to Alpro when it comes to availability. It’s slowly started appearing in smaller, local stores like Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local. It costs £1.80.

This also has 10% oats, rapeseed oil and salt, fortified with calcium, vitamin and iodine supplements, and an added acidity regulator.

Rude Health

This is in all the bigger stores, but it’s harder to find in the local ones, especially the Barista version. It’s also the costliest; the lowest price you can find it for is £2.25.

Its worth noting as part of our Rude Health oat milk review that it is known for its focus on healthy products, and this ingredient list is proof. The Barista version has the highest oat content, with 14% organic oats. Apart from that, it has organic sunflower oil, sea salt, and its defining distinctive ingredient, sea salt.

Anay
Anay Mridul
Anay is a journalism graduate from City, University of London. He has been a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan this year, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.

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