Alisa Fleming ~ Years ago, when my own dairy-free ventures began, the options for milk alternatives were slim. There were none at my local grocers, and the nearest natural food stores carried two brands of soymilk and the only brand of almond milk. The flavors were not abundant either; in fact, I think “original” was pretty much my only selection.
My, how times have changed.
Now my local grocer has three full aisles of natural foods with an overflowing amount of milk alternatives … soy, almond, rice, coconut, hazelnut, and hemp. But, the big news lately is the eruption of the “almond milk wars.” Competitors are going head to head in taste tests and price battles to win the loyalty of consumers. There are now about a half a dozen brands of almond milk to choose from, each with various flavors to boot. So upon the request of viewers, we set out to do our own taste test …
However, our efforts initially ran aground. To be honest, we trialed Silk Pure Almond and Almond Breeze, and though I’ve heard raves for one side or the other from various consumers, none of our tasters could notably tell the two apart. And, when we looked at their nutritionals and ingredients, they were practically identical … perhaps even made in the same factory but private label packaged. At that point, we threw in the towel. Both brands were pretty good, but with no discernable differences, there wasn’t much to report … that is until I stumbled across Almond Dream.
Though the company who produces it, Hain Celestial, is a historical giant in the natural food industry, Almond Dream is a relatively new entrant to the dairy-free market. Still in its infancy, it comes in “just” four versions: vanilla, original, unsweetened vanilla, and unsweetened original. I’m assuming they have chocolate in the marketing plans, but for now I stuck with the ones I could get my hands on, the vanilla and the vanilla unsweetened. I think vanilla is the “new black” when it comes to non-dairy milks, as it seems to be the easiest flavor to locate these days.
The Vanilla Almond Dream (pictured below) was perfectly sweet and had a heavenly fragrance. Almond Dream avoided what I consider the fatal mistake of many milk alternatives, which is over-sweetening. This flavor has just 11 grams of sugar per serving, while competitor brands Silk and Almond Breeze clock in at 15 grams per serving (keep in mind that dairy milk has 12 grams of sugar per glass, without the sweet benefits!). All of our tasters found the Silk and Breeze brands a bit too sweet for sipping, but Almond Dream was addictive and delicious. It also had an amazing smooth and silky texture that was far better than most milk alternatives. I’ve actually had problems in the past with horrible “clumping” from Almond Breeze (perhaps they use too much thickener at times?), but Almond Dream was perfectly fluid, and comparable to 1% or 2% milk in drinkability.
Beyond drinking straight, we loved the Vanilla Almond Dream in coffee, smoothies, baked breakfast goods, and desserts. We even used it to bake up two vegan cake mixes!
The Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Dream seemed richer than the sweetened vanilla, and really a touch creamier than the other brands. I scoured the nutrition facts and as it turns out, the unsweetened vanilla does have a wee bit more fat than their sweetened version and Silk Pure Almond unsweetened (3.5 grams vs 2.5 grams) – Yet another brilliant move by Almond Dream. For myself and our tasters (and I’m guessing many of you), the unsweetened almond milks are used more for body in smoothies, creamy recipes (ie puddings), desserts, and dousing breakfast granola. I rarely drink them straight, but do want them to be rich for all of these dishes.
The taste of the unsweetened vanilla is what I would describe as a very savory almond. Though the almond notes are quite present, we didn’t detect much vanilla, and it actually seemed savory enough to hold its own in most recipes. Just be aware that almond “super-tasters” will probably detect it, so make sure the flavor is well-suited to whatever you are making.
Oh, and for those of you who like a little fortification insurance, Almond Dream boasts 30% of the RDA for Calcium, 25% for Vitamin D, 50% for Vitamin B12 (awesome for vegans and vegetarians who may not get enough through diet), 30% for Vitamin A, and 30% for Vitamin E, per 8-ounce glass.
As late comers to the market, it looks like Hain Celestial did their research. Their new Almond Dream line takes advantage of the goodness we have already seen in the almond milk market, but they saw where there was still room for improvement, and jumped on it. In the almond milk wars, I’ve just defected to Almond Dream.
Article and photos by Alisa Fleming, founder of GoDairyFree.org, blogger at Alisa Cooks, and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a freelance writer for several publications, with an emphasis on creating recipes for various types of special diets