The New Plant Milk In Town
March 14, 2018
While there are myriad non-dairy milks on the market, pea milk is being promoted as not only good for one’s health but as being significantly more environmentally friendly.
What is Pea Milk?
Pea milk is made from pea protein that is extracted from dried yellow split peas, not the fresh green variety more commonly eaten with dinner. Pea protein is the latest alternative to soy protein that companies are using in products such as mayonnaise to make them vegan, allergen free and more environmentally-friendly. The most prominent brand of pea milk currently on supermarket shelves is Ripple. (Another is called Veggemo but is available online only and incorporates pea along with tapioca and potato). While there are numerous brands of pea protein on the market, Ripple created their own proprietary pea protein called “Ripptein”, which they claim is the “purest plant protein on earth,” devoid of any beany flavor or chalky texture.
The ingredients in Ripple’s Unsweetened Original Pea Milk include: Water, Ripptein™ (Pea Protein), Sunflower Oil and Less Than 0.5% Of Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2, DHA Algal Oil, Calcium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sunflower Lecithin, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Organic Guar Gum, Gellan Gum, Gum Acacia.
The milk also comes in Original, Vanilla and Chocolate varieties which all have various amounts of additional added sugar. While the Unsweetened Original has 0g of sugar, the Original variety contains 6g sugar per cup and flavored varieties around 15-17g (equivalent to approximately 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar). In addition to milks, Ripple makes half & half and a “greek yogurt alternative”.
Is it Good For You?
The benefit to Ripple milk is that it is completely hypoallergenic (Lactose Free, Nut Free, Soy Free, Gluten Free, GMO Free, 100% Vegan). Pea protein can be an excellent source of protein for those on a completely plant-based diet however, unlike soy, it does not contain all of the essential amino acids one needs so should be consumed with other sources of plant-based protein in the diet such as beans and grains.
Compared to 2% cow’s milk, the Original pea milk has 20% fewer calories per serving, half the sugar (although it is all from added cane sugar), equivalent protein content, more iron and more calcium. Unlike cow’s milk which has naturally occurring calcium, the calcium from pea milk is a result of fortification. The bioavailability of added calcium (the body’s ability to absorb the nutrient) varies depending on the type of calcium fortification and what other nutrients are consumed with the calcium fortified product. For example, calcium phosphate (which is in Ripple) is not as easily absorbed as calcium citrate or as calcium triphosphate but the Vitamin D added to the milk enhances the absorption of calcium. Fortified calcium can often settle at the bottom of the milk container so shaking pea milk before drinking will help evenly distribute the calcium improving one’s intake.
In comparison to other plant-based milks, it is nutritionally most similar to unsweetened or original soy milk due to its low sugar and high protein content. Click here to see how Ripple compares to other plant-based milks such as almond milk and cashew milk.
Lastly, unlike cow’s milk but similar to other plant based milks, pea milk contains emulsifiers such as guar gum and gellan gum to thicken the consistency with the intent of making it creamy and more similar to cow’s milk. These additives are generally recognized as safe and are both derived from plant-based sources.
Overall, producing pea protein requires fewer resources (water, fertilizers, other crops) than milk protein and even other plant-based proteins. According to Ripple’s promotional content, “Unlike almonds, which require lots of water; or cattle, which contribute to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions; peas have a small environmental footprint. Yellow peas grow in areas that receive lots of rain, so they need little or no irrigation…[and it] requires 85% less water to grow peas than almonds.” While there are other factors that go into carbon footprint such as method and distance of transportation, pea milk can still be considered environmentally friendly and has much less of a carbon footprint than cow’s milk.
How Does it Taste?
In my personal opinion, the Unsweetened Original variety of Ripple is rather neutral compared to other plant-based milks and is obviously significantly less sweet tasting than cow’s milk since it has 0g of sugar. The consistency is thicker than cow’s milk and more similar to heavy cream; the use of the gellan gum and guar gum is apparent. Therefore it does not necessarily have a desirable flavor for drinking on its own as a glass of milk but can easily be incorporated into other foods such as oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, and sweet and savory recipes. If you are looking for a substitute for cow’s milk, the Original variety would be closest since it contains a little more sugar but just keep in mind that it still has only half the sugar as cow’s milk so depending on your application, you may need to increase the total added sugar to the recipe to achieve the same flavor.
While some of Ripple’s promotional claims may be exaggerated, pea milk can be a good substitute for cow’s milk whether you are interested in reducing your dairy intake for health or environmental reasons or both. It’s high protein content gives it an advantage over the nut milks on the market, it is low in sugar and it is completely hypoallergenic unlike soy milk, nut milks and cow’s milk. The setback? It’s cost. At $4.99 per 48 fl oz container, it costs about 70% more than conventional cow’s milk, 30% more than organic cow’s milk, 40% more than non-organic soy and nut milk but is comparable to organic nut and soy milks depending on the brand. So if you are someone who is already guzzling down organic almond milk, this can be a more nutritious alternative and will not break your bank. But for those who are looking to make the leap from conventional cow’s milk to pea milk, you may want to keep its cost in mind.
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