In 2016, oat milk was a foreign concept in the US. In just five years, it has risen from complete obscurity to a household product that can be found in virtually every supermarket and coffee shop—including coffee giant Starbucks. So what happened? The Swedes invaded … by way of Oatly. It’s true, Pacific Foods had an oat-based beverage on a few shelves, but it wasn’t until Oatly strategically placed its product in the hands of capable baristas that the oat milk ship set sail (back to Sweden, of course, for more oat milk).
While a novelty in the US, oat milk had already made waves in Sweden and other European nations by the time it landed on American soil. Oatly co-founder Bjorn Oste had the idea to market the product since 1995 when his brother and nutrition professional, Rickard, developed the drink. The duo launched the beverage to a population that experiences very little lactose intolerance and relies more heavily on dairy than the US. Despite the odds, the pair forged ahead and officially announced Oatly as a brand in 2001. Since then, it expanded its product line and shipment range—providing Oatly to neighboring Nordic nations and eventually to Europe and the UK. Today, Oatly products are sold in over 15 countries encompassing Europe, Asia, Australia, North America, and the UK.
As mentioned above, oat milk was technically available in the US pre-Oatly, but it didn’t catch fire until Oatly implemented its takeover using skilled baristas as its soldiers. The company supplied artisan coffee shops with its thick, three-percent fat oat milk that transforms into velvety microfoam in the capable hands of a barista and a $5,000 espresso machine. Served under these ideal conditions, customers were hooked. After a year of amassing its cult following, Oatly launched in US grocery stores in 2018. It swiftly incorporated more SKUs into its American retail line which now includes whole and low-fat oat milk options, chocolate oat milk, barista blends, ice cream, and yogurt. Beginning in spring 2021, it launched soft serve machines in sports stadiums before expanding to a select number of restaurants, bakeries, and frozen yogurt chains on both coasts. Oatly’s success in the US has been so significant, it’s now trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
Compared to other milk options on the market, oat milk lands in the middle healthwise. Of course, this depends on the specific product (such as sweetened versus unsweetened, flavored versus original), but for our purposes, we’re looking at the OG Oatly. Oatly’s Original Oatmilk contains 120 calories per eight-ounce serving, five grams of fat, three grams of protein, and 350 milligrams of fortified calcium (or 25 percent of the recommended daily value). Calorically speaking, it’s the highest of the plant milks—unsweetened almond and cashew milks range from 25-40 calories per serving, whereas sweetened options hover between 60-80 calories. It’s also slightly higher in fat and protein. Amongst all the plant milks, unless they’re fortified, soy and pea milk are the only vegan options that contain the 8-gram protein equivalent of a serving of dairy milk. As for calcium, most brands fortify their products to contain at least as much or even more calcium than a serving of dairy milk.
All aboard the oat milk train
By 2019, many of the dominant plant milk players in the US had developed and debuted their own version of oat milk. From Califia Farms to Elmhurst and Planet Oat to Danone’s Silk, everyone hopped on the oat milk trend. It’s a non-dairy milk that dissolved many of the barriers companies were facing with their current offerings—oat milk is allergen-friendly. It side-steps the nut issue and avoids soy entirely, which has gotten a bad rap in some consumers’ opinions in recent years. Unlike coconut or rice milk, it also foams beautifully and carries a pleasant, neutral taste with a thick (not watery) texture. Today, oat milk can be found in most dairy-free alternatives from vegan cheese to butter.
Ready to try this vegan wonder? Here are nine oat milk products you have to try.
1. Oatly Barista Edition Oatmilk
The Original Oatmilk is a bit of a given, but have you tried the barista version? It was specifically developed to froth like a boss and create gorgeous wisps of creamy clouds when plopped into coffee or tea. Try it at home in lieu of your go-to vegan creamer.
2. Oatly Strawberry Ice Cream
Not everyone is a strawberry fan, but those who are should pick up a pint of Oatly’s strawberry ice cream on their next grocery run. It’s both creamy and bright, striking that blissful balance between decadence and freshness every strawberry ice cream should.
3. Chobani Oat
This dairy company really just needs to make the leap to exclusively plant-based products. Its oat-based yogurts are unparalleled, even among its vegan competitors. Flavors include Blueberry Pomegranate, Peach Mandarin, Strawberry Vanilla, and Vanilla.
4. Elmhurst Milked Oats—Unsweetened
For those who want the taste of homemade without actually making oat milk at home, Elmhurst has a minimal-ingredient oat milk that gets extremely close. Made with just three ingredients (oats, water, and salt), it’s a rare store-bought option that doesn’t contain any gums, emulsifiers, or flavorings.
5. Lucky Jack Nitro Latte with Oatmilk
Coconut and almond-based canned coffees are quickly being replaced with smoother oat-based drinks. We’re fans of Lucky Jack’s nitro lattes, and we’ve tried every flavor. These milky espresso-based beverages all clock in at under 100 calories per can, which is a first we’ve seen in the canned oat latte category. Favorites include the not-too-sweet Mocha and perfectly spiced Golden Milk + Turmeric.
6. Miyoko’s Churned Vegan Butter made with Oat Milk
Anyone who has tried Miyoko’s European-style butter may have a hard time deviating from this exceptional spread, but the newer oat milk variety is worth a shot—particularly for those with nut or cashew allergies. Like the original recipe, Miyoko’s oat milk butter is cultured and flavored with a hint of sea salt. Look for it in the tub; it’s not yet available in stick form.
7. Natural Bliss Oat Milk Creamer
Oat milk creamers are the equivalent of fourth-wave coffee shops—everyone is doing it. We’ve got to hand it to Coffee Mate’s Natural Bliss Vanilla Oat Milk Creamer for the sake of accessibility. Because this option has a dairy-based parallel, it’s easy for former dairy drinkers to make the swap. There’s no need to try a new brand or venture outside the comfort zone.
8. Raaka Oat Milk Chocolate
Not all vegans love the bitterness of dark chocolate. Raaka’s oat-based dark chocolate bar offers a creamier, less acidic finish, making them more palatable for those seeking something sweeter.
Vegan food developers have finally come up with a quality vegan cheese, but the vast majority of these options are nut-based. These oat-based shreds are nut-free and exclude the top eight allergens, making them a suitable alternative for everyone. Flavors include Original, Italian Herb, and Chipotle Pepper.
Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and fitness enthusiast living in Orange County, CA.
Photo credit: Oatly