Move over porridge, oat yogurt is now the grain of choice for plant-based breakfasts
Vegan yogurt is a fantastically versatile foodstuff. Popular as a breakfast dish mixed with fruit and cereal, it stuff can also be enjoyed as a pudding, swirled over curries, made into tzatziki, or used in baking.
Often used as a lower-fat alternative to cream, yogurt is the basis of many recipes, and is also a lunchbox classic when served in handy little pots. (Provided of course, you remembered your spoon). The number of people avoiding dairy has seen a dramatic increase in recent years, with almost 30 percent of the UK’s young people going dairy-free.
According to the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes the advancement of plant-based food and clean meat, the vegan milk industry is worth $1.8 billion. In terms of yogurt, it is predicted that this particular dairy-free industry will reach $7 billion by 2027. Traditionally made with dairy that is fermented by live cultures (bacteria) the rise of plant-based eaters has led to new developments in moo-less yogurts, and oats are fast becoming a popular ingredient.
While bacteria is typically something we think of as lurking on unscrubbed hands, not all bacteria are bad. Many strains of live culture are essential for gut health and these are the kind found in yogurt. Specifically, Lactobacillus delbrueckii and Streptococcus thermophilus bacteria are used in the yogurt-making process. These naturally occurring cultures are thought to stabilize the gut. Some yogurts contain live cultures, as opposed to ones that have been deactivated during production and these are known as probiotics.
Some experts believe that probiotics boost the immune system and encourage better digestion. They are especially useful for repopulating the gut’s natural flora, say following an intensive course of antibiotics. While many yogurts have oats mixed into them, some clever plant-based brands have taken this one step further and are making it directly from oat milk.
The Health Benefits of Oats
Despite its humble reputation, the common oat is actually something of a super grain. Originating in the Middle East’s latter-day Fertile Crescent, the popular cereal made its merry way to Europe and Britain. From the Middle Ages onward, oats became a mainstay food for the peasant class, especially in Scotland where the crop flourished in the damp climate.
Oats are incredibly nutritious. Oats are packed with complex carbohydrate and are 17 percent protein to boot. In addition, oats are also revered for their cholesterol-lowering properties. This is because oats are a source of soluble fiber, which according to the Mayo Clinic, can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Not to mention oats are downright delicious and a low GI (glycemic index) rating makes this grain extra satisfying.
Why Go Dairy-Free?
Most of us grew up being told that milk was good for us, a grower of strong bones, healthy teeth, and thick hair. This link between dairy and health has been largely popularised by the dairy industry through campaigns such as Got Milk? Most humans cannot digest cow’s milk as we lack the correct digestive enzymes to process the milk protein, lactose. Milk has also been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Dairy consumption has also been linked to digestive issues and inflammation, which is why so many athletes are ditching it in recent years. Several members the baseball team the LA Dodgers now follow a dairy-free diet, which they say aids in recovery time.
While no major studies have been made about how dairy affects professional athletes, Dr. Susan Levin, Director of Nutrition Education at PCRM (Phyisicans Committee for Responsible Medicine), told LIVEKINDLY that eating less dairy means less saturated fat. Saturated fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
Ethics and Environment
Another reason to forego dairy is the ethical question surrounding its production. Like all mammals and the anomalous platypus, the cow produces milk in order to feed her young. This is the only time that a cow produces milk.
For a cow to be milked, she must first have a calf, invariably via artificial insemination. The cow will start producing milk once her calf is born after nine month’s gestation. In order to prevent the calf from suckling so the milk can be collected, they must be separated from their mother. This is usually done immediately after the cow gives birth. Studies have shown that mother cows are traumatized by this separation. Following the separation, calves have been reported to exhibit considerable emotional distress.
Animal Biologist at the University of British Columbia, Daniel Weary explained this in an interview with WIRED, “The calves will engage in repetitive crying and become more active,” he said, “and sometimes you’ll see a decline in their willingness to eat solid food.”
The entire dairy industry is founded upon this separation of mother from child, performed on a massive level. In the UK alone, 14 billion liters of milk are produced every year by an estimated 1.8 million dairy cows.
Each of these cows will have several calves, all of which will be removed. If the calf is female, she will follow the same pattern of pregnancy, milking, pregnancy as her mother. If it is a male, he will usually be killed as male cows don’t produce milk.
Around 95, 000 dairy calves are simply shot within hours of being born, or else they will be transported to the continent where they will live for an average of 16 weeks before being slaughtered for veal.
As well as the incessant milking process, research into the lives of dairy cows has shown that they are often kept in inhumane conditions as recently revealed by an undercover expose by Viva! as part of its Scary Dairy campaign. This is in addition to the wider impact of animal agriculture, being a major contributor to global warming.
But these days, it’s oat-rageously easy to enjoy all the products traditionally made with dairy when following a plant-based diet.
The Ultimate Dairy-Free Guide to Oat Milk Vegan Yogurts
Oat yogurt is made in a pretty identical way to traditional yogurt, using dairy-free oat milk and a starter enzyme (culture.) Oats have become a popular base for yogurt in recent years, especially in Nordic countries. Here are some brands to try.
Since being founded in Sweden in the era of Game Boys and “Saved By the Bell,” Oatly has gone on to be sold in over 20 countries across Europe, America, and Asia. Its website also offers a handy “oatfinder” locator for cafes which stock its products. Well, nobody likes to be stuck sans latte.
As well as its eight oat drinks, including a chocolate flavor and a mango drink, rather like a lassi, the brand also makes authentic single cream, vanilla custard, and a tart creme fraiche. But of course, we are here to talk about yogurt and last week Oatly announced the launch of its new “Oatgurt” range via its Instagram page.
The pourable oatgurt comes in four flavors, Natural, Strawberry, Elderflower, and Vanilla and can be added to cereals or cooking, or simply slugged as a creamy vegan yogurt drink.
Another Nordic brand, Kaslink based in Finland launched its Aito (the Finnish word for “genuine”) range a few years ago with products including dairy-free whipping cream and milk. Aito’s “oat snack” comes as both a yogurt drink and yogurt pot in either natural, blueberry or strawberry flavor.
3. Beta Oats
The founders of Seattle-based brand BetaOats were inspired by its time in Nordic Europe. Disappointed by the lack of healthy food choices in the US, they decided to recreate the classic “Oat Vellie”. BetaOats is available in the Pacific Northwest.
Named after the Swedish word for “health,” Hälsa makes drinkable, dairy-free oatgurt in flavors like strawberry, blueberry, and concord grape. It’s available at Wegmans stores throughout New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
All-American family business Nancy’s has been making dairy products since 1960, but has answered the call for plant-based products with a range of oat yogurts. All of the yogurts are probiotic and come in four flavors, including strawberry hibiscus and vanilla.
6. Valio Oddlygood
Launched in 2017, Oddlygood is a Finnish company championing the power of oats. As it says on its website: “Valio Oddlygood® brand has a unique, playful look to it, creating a good stand-out on the shelves and appealing to a wider consumer group of flexitarians.”
As well as oat milk and on-the-go porridge, Oddlygood makes thick oat yogurts, available in either mango or raspberry.
7. Homemade Vegan Oat Yogurt
This dairy-free yogurt recipe by blogger Laura Peill is made from whole rolled oats, shredded coconut, vegan probiotics, vanilla paste, and a pinch of cinnamon.
Get the recipe here.