Oat milk powders
For quite some time now I have replaced “real” milk with oat milk for most of my needs.
Oat milk, especially the “barista” versions available by various producers, are “good enough” for me in the sense that I do like the taste (even though it is of course significantly different from dairy) and they work very well with Coffee and are also relatively easy to foam up for use in Cappucchinos etc.
Prices for my preferred oat milk are hovering around 2 EUR for 1l and that is substantially more expensive than getting cheap milk in the super market but I usually bought better, more expensive milk anyway.
One issue with oat milk is that it takes a relatively compact, dry ingredient, like oats and adds a ton of water before processing and shipping it in the usual milk cartons. That seems wasteful, right?
In fact, making your own oat milk seems to be (I haven't tried it yet) a relatively straight forward process but it obviously isn't as convenient as getting a carton, rip it open and pour.
Startups to the rescue
Lately, a lot of startups try to sell you “oat milk powder”, mostly via Instagram ads. The idea is that they process the oat flour in a way that turns it into something you can just dissolve in tap water and what you get is delicious oat milk.
We have tried one of these products now for a while and I have ... thoughts.
For one, in contrast to what they say on their website, I wasn't really able to foam it up for use with coffee. But even used in it's pure liquid form, for example in a hot cocoa, it lacked...something. After thinking about it for a while and studying the ingredients lists etc, I think I figured it out.
Salt Fat Acid Heat
The thing is, by itself, oat flour does contain very little fat. Milk, on the other hand (dairy milk, I mean) has, in the supermarket version, somewhere around 3,5% fat for “normal”, non skimmed, milk.
Most fluid oat milk variants contain a certain amount (seems like between 1% and 3%) of vegetable oil to get closer to “real” milk. Given that fat is a pretty strong carrier of flavour, it makes sense that drinking a much less fatty drink tastes weaker and more watery.
Now, with my limited understanding of food science, this is actually a relatively hard problem to solve (quite literally) for the powder producers.
Fats are obviously not water soluable, so to end up with a powder, you would need to add fats which are dry/solid at room temperature, but then these fats would still be dry/solid at room temperature in your oat solution after adding the powder to water, right?
Producers of liquid oat milk don't have the same problem – What they need to do is turn something that by everything I know about how this works is probably a mix of a suspension and a solution (meaning that some parts of the oat will be water soluable, while the rest will just suspend in the fluid, which is why you always need to shake up oat milk before pouring) into an emulsion between the oat milk and the oils. Somehow this seems to be possible without the additional use of emulgators but maybe they just use so little that they don't need to declare them.
Spreading yourself too thin
In general, what the powder producers seem to do, btw. is to err on the side of too little ingredients per volume. One producer, for example claims that you can get up to 8l out of 750g of powder, while even their recommended dosage of 10g per 1l of water seems quite thin to me (Well, they do say “add more to make it creamier” in their instructions.
What I will try to do, to see if I can make an emulsion myself is going to try to add small amounts of vegetable oil to the drink – Maybe that will fix part of the problem.
Initially, btw. I thought the powder manufacturers would use the old trick of fat reduced products to just add more sugar, but the liquid oat milks do actually contain more sugar, it seems. Which adds to my theory of them actually erring on the side of “too thin”.
Let's come back to the price. If you use their recommendation of 10g per 1l, the stuff we're currently testing comes around to a little more than 2 EUR per 1l. I know they are all just starting their businesses and there's probably quite a bit of room for price drops when scaling up but I find it quite irritating to pay more or the same for getting substantially less. And I don't necessarily mean the extra water but the whole convenience and, most importantly usability and taste.
The brand we're using has promised a “barista” variant. It will be interesting to see how they plan to address the obvious weaknesses of using a powder.
(I am probably a bad influencer by not linking you directly to a couple of these new oat milk powders with affiliate links, but to be honest, at the current state I can't really recommend this to anyone)