The Complete Guide to Oat Milk: Nutrition, Benefits, and Use

| February 28, 2019

Moooove over alt milks, there’s a new(ish) beverage in town. Oat milk is the rich, creamy plant milk alternative derived from whole oats — one of the original superfoods. The oat milk craze has been sweeping across the country because this beverage is so tasty, versatile, and healthy. What started as a coffee shop staple and barista’s favorite has quickly become a go-to item for the masses. 

If it’s time to break up with dairy due to allergies, intolerances, diet preferences, or more environmentally conscious decisions, oat milk is here for you. It’s a tasty alternative that won’t require you to sacrifice the taste of your coffee and cereal.

Here’s everything you should know about this tasty beverage, and why so many people are obsessed with oat milk.

 

Oat Milk’s History

Compared to other plant-based milk alternatives like soy, rice, or almond milk, oat milk is a relative newcomer to the market. The first oat milk company was founded in Sweden 25 years ago, but it has only been marketed on a large scale in the U.S. since 2017.

According to Bloomberg Business, oat milk sales have climbed from $4.4 million in 2017 to $29 million in 2019. In 2018 when coffee chains in the U.S introduced oat milk, it became so popular, it created an oat milk shortage. There’s no need to panic, though — grocery store shelves are well-stocked again, so there’s plenty for everyone.

Consumers love oat milk because it has a thicker, creamier texture than many other plant milk alternatives. It doesn’t taste nutty, beany, or grassy. Instead, oat milk has a neutral and slightly sweet flavor. Those characteristics make it versatile for use in products like:

  • Coffee creamers
  • Lattes
  • Ice cream
  • Yogurt

A nice feature of oat milk is that it foams nicely, and compared to other plant-based milks, it’s far less likely to curdle in hot coffee. Thus, it’s a favorite among coffee shop baristas. Most plant-based milk will curdle when added to coffee because of the difference in acidity between the coffee and milk, but oat milk is more stable. 

RISE Oat Milk Latte in a can and in a glass | RISE Nitro Brewing Co.

  

How Do You Make Oat Milk?

The thought of getting milk from oats might seem strange, but it’s fast and easy enough to do at home:

  • Combine 1 cup of oats with 4 cups of filtered water in a high-speed blender. If you prefer thicker, creamier milk, add less water. 
  • Blend for about 40 seconds or until smooth.
  • Strain off any solids and enjoy.

Oat milk’s natural sweetness comes from the starch in oats. However, if you want to make yours even sweeter you can add any sweetener of choice. Or try brown sugar, date, or maple syrup for a more complex flavor. You can also experiment with mix-ins like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, chocolate, or a pinch of sea salt. Store your oat milk in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Unlike nuts which must soften for hours or overnight before blending, oats are naturally soft. They absorb water quickly, so there’s no waiting time. The downside of making homemade oat milk is that because oats are so soft, it’s a bit hard to strain the solids off completely and you might get a few lumps. 

 

The differences between brands

Of course, an easier way to enjoy oat milk (and ensure it’s smooth and creamy) is to buy it. Many brands are available either in the refrigerator section or in convenient shelf-stable packaging. Manufacturers start with the same basic process to make oat milk on a large scale. 

But there are differences between brands, such as:

  • The type of oats they use. They can be conventionally grown, organically grown, gluten-free, or gluten-free organic.
  • Whether the oats used are treated with glyphosate, a widely used weed killer. Many farmers also use this on oats to help them dry faster out for earlier harvesting. Glyphosate is controversial because it has suspected links to certain types of cancer, but Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed it safe. Some oat milk brands, like RISE Brewing Co. only use glyphosate-free oats.
  • The amount of sugar they add. Oat milk varieties range from no sugar added to lots of sugar or other sweetener added. 
  • Any thickeners or emulsifiers used in processing. Some brands use ingredients like lecithin or gums to thicken their product. Other manufacturers add a small amount of fat from a healthy oil like sunflower or canola. During processing, the milk is homogenized (blended). That small amount of oil acts as an emulsifier and prevents the milk particles from separating.  
  • The flavorings they use, and where they’re sourced from. Vanilla and chocolate are standard, but they can range from regular vanilla and chocolate to organic bourbon vanilla from Madagascar and organic cocoa. If you like your oat milk flavored with coffee, look for oat milk lattes made with nitro cold brew coffee. It’s cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen for an exceptionally smooth and refreshing beverage.
  • Whether they fortify products with vitamins and minerals. Oats are a natural source of B vitamins and several minerals. Some manufacturers also add vitamin D, calcium, or other nutrients.
  • Whether the product is sold refrigerated or shelf stable. As long as it’s stored as recommended, these shouldn’t affect flavor or quality. Shelf-stable oat milk can be an added convenience for those who like to stock up and never run out. RISE Brewing Co. oat milks are shelf-stable for up to one year. Of course, once the container is opened, you should use it within 7 days.

 

Oat Milk Nutrition

The nutrition content of oat milk varies depending on how it’s made and what’s added. Sweetened or flavored oat milk has more carbs and calories from added sugar. Oat milk lattes will have fewer calories because they’re mixed with coffee, which is calorie-free.

An 8-ounce glass of RISE Brewing Co. organic oat milk has:

  • Calories: 130
  • Protein: <1g
  • Fat: 6g 
  • Carbs: 17g

Compared to regular cow’s milk, oat milk is similar in calories, lower in protein, and slightly higher in carbs. But a benefit for many health-conscious consumers is that non-dairy oat milk is naturally cholesterol-free. And unlike cow’s milk which is high in saturated fat, the fat in oat milk is unsaturated. In the case of RISE Brewing Co. oat milk, most of the fat comes from organic sunflower oil, which is monounsaturated and heart healthy. 

It’s important to note that the nutrition facts label on plain, unsweetened oat milk lists a certain amount of sugar and “added sugar.” Nope, it’s not a typo. There’s a reason for it. When the oats are soaked and processed, enzymes convert their starch to glucose — technically a form of sugar. Glucose is a fuel source for every cell in your body.

 

Oats and fiber

Other health benefits of oat milk come from the oats themselves. Oats are highly nutritious and rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.¹ Although they are strained from the final product, small amounts of those nutrients are transferred to the oat milk.

Oats are well-known for their beta-glucan soluble fiber. That’s a type of fiber that attracts water and forms a gel in your digestive tract. It has significant health benefits, including: ¹

  • Aiding with weight loss by slowing your digestion and keeping you full for longer
  • Managing blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of glucose into your cells
  • Reducing cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol and keeping it out of your bloodstream

Studies on the effect of oat milk on cholesterol have found drinking it for at least five weeks can help reduce total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol by up to 6%. ² ³  

Oat fiber is also a great source of prebiotics. Probiotics are indigestible compounds that serve as a source of food for the friendly bacteria in your gut. It’s vital to keep your gut microbes healthy and happy because they support many aspects of your health. Your friendly bacteria support your immune system, your digestive health, and even a healthy weight.¹  

 

Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free?

Oat milk does not contain any wheat, rye, or barley, which are the primary sources of gluten, so, yes, oat milk is gluten free. However, if you are looking for a gluten free product because of health concerns, you should make sure that it is certified gluten free

You should be aware that when oats are grown and processed, they may be cross-contaminated with wheat, rye, barley, or other sources of gluten. Companies that source non-contaminated oats, like RISE Brewing Co. will list gluten-free on the label. However, if you follow a gluten-free diet for celiac disease, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Contact the company to verify that nothing has changed in their sourcing or production methods. 

RISE Oat Milk Latte |  Man holding coffee can in hand while adventuring | RISE Nitro Brewing Co.

Who Should Drink Oat Milk?

Oat milk is an excellent option for those who want to move away from dairy milk because of lactose intolerance or a preference for a vegan diet. Because oats are one of the least allergenic foods, it’s also safe if you have soy, milk protein, wheat, or nut allergies. 

Children and babies (after 12 months) can also drink oat milk. It’s easy to digest, and as with adults, it’s a safe choice for kids with dairy, nut, or soy allergies. Because oat milk is lower in protein and some vitamins and minerals than dairy or soy milk, make sure you talk to your child’s doctor about using oat milk.

If you strictly follow a paleo or Whole30 diet, sorry, you won’t be able to enjoy oat milk because it’s made from grain. And for those on a keto diet, it may provide too many carbs, but an oat milk latte might work as an occasional treat.

  

Oat Milk vs. Other Plant Milks

Some people choose a non-dairy milk based on its nutritional profile, but for others, it’s all about taste. And in fact, the downside of many other varieties of non-dairy milk is their distinctive taste. But that’s also the biggest selling point of oat milk. No doubt, if you did a blind taste test, you’d be able to pick out coconut, almond, hemp, or soy milk in a second. On the other hand, oat milk tastes surprisingly like cow’s milk — slightly sweet, with a neutral flavor. 

That neutral, milk-like flavor means oat milk is versatile not only for drinking straight, in coffee, or on cereal, but also for using in recipes, where the taste of other plant milks might be overpowering.

Another critical reason more people are reaching for oat milk over dairy and other plant milks is the environment. Dairy farming has a significant impact on land and water use, as well as greenhouse emissions. A 2019 study on the environmental effects of various foods found one glass of dairy milk results in almost three times more greenhouse gas emissions than any plant-based milk. It also consumes nine times more land than any of the milk alternatives. ⁴

All plant milks have far less impact on the environment, but they’re still not equal. 

  • Almonds require significant amounts of water (130 pints) to produce one cup of almond milk. ⁴
  • Rice is another water guzzler, and interestingly, it contributes to greenhouse gas because bacteria growing in rice paddies produce methane gas.
  • Coconut growing strains tropical rainforests and has a reputation for exploiting workers in poor regions of the world.

Oats are often listed as a winner due to their low environmental impact — they need fewer natural resources to grow and have a low carbon footprint. They’re also easy to grow. 

 

How to Use Oat Milk

Because of its taste and creamy texture, oat milk lends itself well to a wide range of uses. Of course, its whip-ability means it’s a no-brainer for lattes. It’s also delicious and satisfying in any kind of tea. But chefs also swear by it because oat milk works well in so many recipes when you need an excellent non-dairy option. 

Oat milk with some fat added (also known as barista blend) works incredibly well in recipes. You should be able to swap it in at a 1:1 ratio when making:

Oat milk shouldn’t curdle, especially if you're using one with some added fat. But if you’re adding oat milk to something that’s been boiling, take it off the heat and add the milk slowly. 

RISE Nitro Brewing Co. | Recipe for Oat Milk Latte Ice Cream with Cocoa Nibs and Flake Salt

  

How to make an oat milk latte

Oat milk lattes are so tasty, once you treat yourself, you’ll never want to drink coffee any other way. Of course, you can buy them in cans or at the coffee shop, but they’re also effortless to make at home. Here’s how:

  • Brew ¾ cup of strong coffee and pour it into a mug.
  • Heat 1 cup of oat milk in the microwave for about 45 seconds, or over medium-high heat on the stove.
  • Froth the oat milk using a frother, an immersion blender, or by putting it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shaking for about 30 seconds.
  • Gently pour the oat milk over the coffee.
  • Enjoy!

  

The Bottom Line

Although it’s a relative newcomer to the alternative milk market, oat milk has already developed a significant following because of its flavor and creaminess. It’s an ideal option for those who prefer lactose-free milk, or anyone with allergies to dairy, soy, or tree nuts — and it has potential health benefits for everyone else.

If you haven’t tried it yet, order up an oat milk latte, or pick up a carton, and see for yourself what the obsession is all about.

 

References:

  1. Rasane P, Jha A, Sabikhi L, Kumar A, Unnikrishnan VS. Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods - a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2015;52(2):662-675. doi:10.1007/s13197-013-1072-1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325078/
  2. Onning G, Wallmark A, Persson M, Akesson B, Elmståhl S, Oste R. Consumption of oat milk for 5 weeks lowers serum cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in free-living men with moderate hypercholesterolemia. Ann Nutr Metab. 1999;43(5):301-309. doi:10.1159/000012798 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10749030/
  3. Onning G, Akesson B, Oste R, Lundquist I. Effects of consumption of oat milk, soya milk, or cow's milk on plasma lipids and antioxidative capacity in healthy subjects. Ann Nutr Metab. 1998;42(4):211-220. doi:10.1159/000012736 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9745107/
  4. Poore J, Nemecek T. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. 2018 Jun 1;360(6392):987-92. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29853680/
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