Oats are the humble cereal that keep on giving. These little nuggets have been a human staple for over 32,000 years, when palaeolithic hunter-gatherers used to grind them by hand to make porridge. But oats are more than edible.
Their starch is sticky enough to make a great glue extender and their anti-inflammatory properties can soothe itchy skin – hence the brand ‘Aveeno,’ which comes from ‘Avena,’ the botanical name for our humble protagonist – and they're great for your gut.
And over the last three decades, oats have also become synonymous with alt-milk, aka cow's milk alternatives. Light, creamy and naturally sweet, oatmilk is a great sidekick for drinks hot or cold.
Mooooooove over cow’s milk.
All in the same oat
Most oat milks are free from dairy, nuts, soy, gluten and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Plus, generally speaking, they're high in soluble fibre, at 2g per 240ml.
If you’ve ordered a coffee lately, you'll have noticed the non-dairy coup is happening. There’s the ever-popular soy, and the various nut milks (aka glorified water): almond, cashew, hazelnut and macadamia.There’s also coconut and rice milks, and more recently hemp milk, which is pleasantly seedy and strong. And if you’re game, there’s also pea milk. Yes, really.
Peak alt-milk? Probably. But it’s actually been a long time coming. The trailblazing brand Oatly sat on the margins for decades before it snuck into the mainstream back in 2018.
Oatly was founded in 1994 in Malmo, Sweden by brothers Rickard and Bjorn Oeste. Rickard came up with this alt milk by using natural enzymes to break oats down into little components. He then separated the starchy liquid from the firm shells, putting in canola oil for some fat content.
When the sibling oat-magnates took the milk to the US market in late 2016, they didn’t go the traditional supermarket route. Instead, they went straight to speciality coffee shops.
Baristas, brewers and roasters got behind the product after it won them over on taste (hot or cold) and a flair for steaming. Oatmilk is creamy and the Oeste’s addition of a tiny amount of oil makes fab microfoam, so lattes can live up to expectations. And with a neutral taste profile – not nutty like almond or sweet like soy – Oatmilk is a blank canvas that lets those single-o beans shine.
And so began the coup of oatmilk as the ultimate pairing for a cuppa Joe. In a single year, Oatly expanded from just ten coffee shops in New York to 1,000-plus shops across the U.S.
Today, if you’re a barista without an oatmilk offering, you’re literally writing yourself out of the zeitgeist.
Oatmilk is happening here in Oz too. Beyond the grand-daddy Oatly, you’ve probably clocked Minor Figures, Vitasoy and Califia Farms to name but a few brands on the shelves of your local supermarket. With hipster packaging and quirky marketing, these brands bring both oaty goodness, and a bit of irreverence, into the everyday.
But being hip has always come at a cost, and oat milk is no different.
Go with the grain
Dependent on the brand, oat milk can provide up to 6.8g carbohydrate and 1.4g fibre per 100ml. This is more than other plant-based milks, and even cows milk.
One litre of Minor Figures or Oatly both go for around $4.80 at the supermarket. Compare that with $2.25 for the same size carton of cow’s milk. That’s quite a premium considering oats are as cheap as chips (there’s a reason porridge was an entire food group at uni). Add some water and a slick logo and for some reason, cost is no obstacle.
Seems that specialising as the best plant milk for coffee has been oatmilk’s savviest strategy. And the numbers don’t lie, with Minor Figures reporting sales growth of 400% in 2019, it seems that Aussie baristas have finally fallen for its neutral taste, even if we were slow to the oat party.
Numbers aside for a sec, you also know you’re onto a good thing when celebrities get on board. In June 2020, Oatly scored $200 million in equity from A-list celeb investors like Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z, Natalie Portman and Howard Schulz (Starbucks CEO). And their bets paid off, while almond milk grew 24% in 2021, and soy was up 11.7%, oatmilk soared 175%!
In fact the entire category is on a tear, with plant-based beverages expected to grow from a worth of $13.5 billion in 2018 to $22.5 billion by 2026 globally.
Over-blending, heating and soaking your oats can make your oatmilk slimy in texture. Strain twice to remove any of that excess starch which can also lend to a slimy texture.
Cow’s milk is falling out of favour. For a start, it’s not eco-friendly (methane farts), plus going plant-based is also a question of animal-free ethics. Oats beat dairy and other plant-based milks because they boast a pretty good pro list when it comes to using fewer resources.
Growing oats doesn’t require as much land and water as other milk sources. In fact, growing oats takes six times less H2O than growing almonds. Guzzling one litre of Oatly saves 80% less nasty emissions and 60% less energy compared to cow’s milk.
Considering global warming, oats are outstanding. But true sustainability relies on oatmilk becoming an easily available option at price parity with traditional cow’s milk.
In the meantime, why not try your hand at making your own? It’s dead easy, cheap and healthier:
- Add 4 cups of ice-cold water to 1 cup of organic rolled oats (not quick oats). Blend for 30 seconds until creamy and smooth and sweeten with a splash of vanilla and a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey to taste.
- Next, find a tightly-woven nutmilk bag, place it in a bowl and pour the oatmilk through it. Squeeze gently until most of the milk is out, leaving just pulp. If you want seriously smooth milk (and can be bothered), then strain it a second time.
DIY Oatmilk will keep for a week in the fridge in a glass carafe. And don’t despair if your concoction has its own character and flavour. It’s because it’s not processed with enzymes, oils and additives to make it creamier.
So what about oatmilk the colour?
Well, it’s pretty much exactly as it sounds being more than off-white, but less than a weak latte: a light brown, creamy shade with a hint of warmth. In other words, Oatmilk is a neutral, go-with-anything chameleon colour – a minimalist staple with a range of subtle undertones, from pink to gold. Warmer than white, it’s plain, simple and the polar opposite of a show pony.
So drape yourself in tasty minimalism today with a Magic Fit® Tee in limited edition Oatmilk.