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  4. We tasted and ranked 7 different types of dairy and non-dairy milks. Oat milk came in dead last.

We tasted and ranked 7 different types of dairy and non-dairy milks. Oat milk came in dead last.

Rachel Askinasi   

We tasted and ranked 7 different types of dairy and non-dairy milks. Oat milk came in dead last.
We had such high hopes for oat milk.Hollis Johnson/INSIDER
  • Insider conducted a blind taste test of seven types of milk to see which ultimately tastes the best.
  • We drank them straight-up, in coffee, with Fruit Loops, in french toast, and steamed by a barista.

The alt-milk wars have been going on for quite some time now with new contenders constantly joining the ranks and vying for shelf space.

The alt-milk wars have been going on for quite some time now with new contenders constantly joining the ranks and vying for shelf space.
Insider conducted this taste test in 2019.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Walk down the dairy aisle of your local supermarket and you'll probably see a number of "milk" drinks that aren't actually dairy at all — like soy "milk," various kinds of nut "milk," and other plant-based options — right next to the old fashioned cow milk.

There are plenty of reasons why someone may choose a dairy-free option over the dairy-based classics — like allergies or other medically-backed dietary restrictions — but there are also people who like the health benefits of one more than the other or try to choose the option that is best for the environment.

On Wednesday, the FDA published draft guidance saying that the non-dairy drinks we came to know as milk alternatives can actually be called milk (The agency is recommending "oat milk" or "almond milk" as opposed to "oat drink" or "almond beverage" etc.) as they don't pose confusion to consumers. The FDA is accepting comments on this guidance through April 24.

The guidance also recommends — though, it doesn't require — companies include an extra nutrition label that clearly states when a product has less nutritional value (calcium, protein, Vitamin D, etc.) than dairy milk.

With so many different dairy milk and dairy milk alternative options on the shelves today, we decided to put seven of them to the test — or more specifically, a taste test.

With so many different dairy milk and dairy milk alternative options on the shelves today, we decided to put seven of them to the test — or more specifically, a taste test.
All seven milk drinks in the lineup.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Of course, we couldn't just judge based on how they taste when sipping straight from the carton — although, that wouldn't be an unrealistic way to judge ...

Of course, we couldn
We've all done it.      Joey Hadden/Insider

... so we picked five popular ways of consuming milk that each give their own experience. We tried them as just a stand-alone cup of milk, in a bowl of cereal, mixed with coffee ...

... so we picked five popular ways of consuming milk that each give their own experience. We tried them as just a stand-alone cup of milk, in a bowl of cereal, mixed with coffee ...
We used Fruit Loops as the cereal.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

... fried into French toast ...

... fried into French toast ...
Everyone got a piece of each to try.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

... and steamed.

... and steamed.
We visited our local coffee shop for this one.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Each milk drink was assigned a number: 1. organic whole milk, 2. lactose-free 2% milk, 3. organic 1% milk, 4. skim milk, 5. soy milk, 6. almond milk, and 7. oat milk.

Each milk drink was assigned a number: 1. organic whole milk, 2. lactose-free 2% milk, 3. organic 1% milk, 4. skim milk, 5. soy milk, 6. almond milk, and 7. oat milk.
When they're lined up, we were able to see the differences in color.      Hollis Johnson/Insider

All of our willing participants went into the tasting blind — which means they only knew which number they were tasting, not which varietal of drink.

All of our willing participants went into the tasting blind — which means they only knew which number they were tasting, not which varietal of drink.
All tasters said they could consume dairy milk and had no strong thoughts about the drink in general.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

We started off with the plain cup of milk. Ranking criteria for this category included color, smell, viscosity, taste, and willingness to drink it again.

We started off with the plain cup of milk. Ranking criteria for this category included color, smell, viscosity, taste, and willingness to drink it again.
Participants used their phones to fill out a review form.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

When it came to simply enjoying a glass of milk, the whole milk and the lactose-free 2% milk were the winners.

When it came to simply enjoying a glass of milk, the whole milk and the lactose-free 2% milk were the winners.
Whole milk (left) was milk No. 1 and lactose-free 2% milkfat milk (right) was milk No. 2.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Most tasters said the color on both of these cow milk options was near "beautiful" and the viscosity of them was average — it wasn't so thick that it was gross, and it wasn't so thin that it was watery.

Most tasters said the color on both of these cow milk options was near "beautiful" and the viscosity of them was average — it wasn
Participants really examined each cup of milk.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

While both milks ranked highly in several tasting categories, the organic whole milk reigned supreme. It had an appetizing color, a tolerable smell, and a "true milk taste." All five tasters said they would drink it again.

While both milks ranked highly in several tasting categories, the organic whole milk reigned supreme. It had an appetizing color, a tolerable smell, and a "true milk taste." All five tasters said they would drink it again.
This was the ultimate winner in the first round of ranking.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

When it came to the 2% lactose-free milk, tasters thought it was full-fat dairy milk. They said it looked even "creamier" than the whole milk. While two people said it didn't really have a smell ...

When it came to the 2% lactose-free milk, tasters thought it was full-fat dairy milk. They said it looked even "creamier" than the whole milk. While two people said it didn
Lactaid is a brand of lactose-free dairy milk.      Joey Hadden/Insider

... others disagreed. Two tasters said it smelled sour, with one writing its odor was "reminiscent of the point in a carton's lifespan in which you're unsure if you should drink it or not." Another compared the smell to "stinky cheese."

... others disagreed. Two tasters said it smelled sour, with one writing its odor was "reminiscent of the point in a carton
Yuck!      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

As opposed to the whole milk's unanimous "yes," only three out of five tasters said they would drink the lactose-free milk again.

As opposed to the whole milk
It still ranked among the top two.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Milk drink No. 3 was a 1% milkfat, organic dairy milk, which did fairly well with tasters.

Milk drink No. 3 was a 1% milkfat, organic dairy milk, which did fairly well with tasters.
This is considered low-fat milk.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Tasters thought the color on this one was fairly neutral with one person writing, "Typical milk color with a watery light yellow undertone."

Tasters thought the color on this one was fairly neutral with one person writing, "Typical milk color with a watery light yellow undertone."
A blob of Horizon organic 1% dairy milk pictured above.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

When it came to the smell and viscosity, most people thought the drink was average, with virtually no smell and average viscosity.

When it came to the smell and viscosity, most people thought the drink was average, with virtually no smell and average viscosity.
Most people found milks that were either very watery or very thick to be "gross."      Hollis Johnson/Insider

Interestingly, one person wrote that they thought the 1% milk had a "thicker, fuller milk taste," while another person wrote that it seemed "creamier" than the whole and 2% milks.

Interestingly, one person wrote that they thought the 1% milk had a "thicker, fuller milk taste," while another person wrote that it seemed "creamier" than the whole and 2% milks.
Even though it contained less milkfat, tasters still thought it had a creamy texture.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Milk No. 4 was an enriched fat-free, or skim, milk.

Milk No. 4 was an enriched fat-free, or skim, milk.
Skim milk is also known as fat-free milk.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

The skim milk gave a good first impression — tasters said it had "a beautiful ivory color to it" — but most tasters said it smelled pretty bad.

The skim milk gave a good first impression — tasters said it had "a beautiful ivory color to it" — but most tasters said it smelled pretty bad.
A blob of Skim Plus milk pictured above.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Two tasters said it smelled rotten or near rotten. One wrote, "It's like four-days-in-the-fridge too long."

Two tasters said it smelled rotten or near rotten. One wrote, "It
Tasters were generous to lend their sense of smell.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

But one taster actually liked the smell. They wrote, "Smells like Cookies 'n' Cream Hershey's bar. Love it!" This person was also the only taster to say they would drink milk No. 4 again — everyone else gave it a hard no.

But one taster actually liked the smell. They wrote, "Smells like Cookies
Hershey's Cookies 'n' Cream bar features chocolate cookie bits and white-colored chocolate.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Milk No. 5 was a dairy alternative: soy milk.

Milk No. 5 was a dairy alternative: soy milk.
Silk brand soy milk.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

One taster wrote that the color looked like "milk that was poured onto a dirty sidewalk and scooped back into the carton. It looks like what you'd expect from a nut milk."

One taster wrote that the color looked like "milk that was poured onto a dirty sidewalk and scooped back into the carton. It looks like what you
A blog of soy milk pictured above.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

But when it came to the odor, all tasters agreed that the soy milk had a pleasant and sweet smell reminiscent of cotton candy or vanilla ice cream.

But when it came to the odor, all tasters agreed that the soy milk had a pleasant and sweet smell reminiscent of cotton candy or vanilla ice cream.
It was sweet.      Joey Hadden/Insider

However, after tasting it, most people said they wouldn't drink it again. They wrote that they were "Surprised by the taste" in the worst way: "So bad. So thick. I'm gagging. Tastes like there is cardboard in my milk."

However, after tasting it, most people said they wouldn
It even gave tasters' breath a weird after-taste.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Next up was the Almond Breeze almond milk. It left a pretty bad first impression with tasters when they examined the color.

Next up was the Almond Breeze almond milk. It left a pretty bad first impression with tasters when they examined the color.
Almond Breeze was milk drink No. 6.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

All tasters agreed there was a strange color here. One thought it looked purple, while another described it as having a "gray, dull tint." But when it came to smell, it was a unanimous two-thumbs-up — no one thought it had a distinct smell.

All tasters agreed there was a strange color here. One thought it looked purple, while another described it as having a "gray, dull tint." But when it came to smell, it was a unanimous two-thumbs-up — no one thought it had a distinct smell.
A blob of Almond Breeze pictured above.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

After giving it a try, most tasters thought it was on the thicker side — only one said they would drink it again and ranked it their favorite so far. The almond milk's taste got mixed reviews — one taster wrote that they "could see this being good in coffee but not on its own," while another predicted it "would taint any cup of coffee."

After giving it a try, most tasters thought it was on the thicker side — only one said they would drink it again and ranked it their favorite so far. The almond milk
It wasn't the worst of the milks, but it wasn't as popular as the Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Before the tasting, we predicted that the oat milk drink would be the best overall, mostly due to the hype it's generated on the internet. But it was actually the worst.

Before the tasting, we predicted that the oat milk drink would be the best overall, mostly due to the hype it
Oatly's branding is incredibly enticing.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

On a scale of 1 (labeled "Ew") to 5 (labeled "Beautiful"), every taster ranked the oat milk drink as "Ew." Comments ranged from "If the last one's color scared me, this one was perhaps even more unappealing."

On a scale of 1 (labeled "Ew") to 5 (labeled "Beautiful"), every taster ranked the oat milk drink as "Ew." Comments ranged from "If the last one
It looked completely unappetizing.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Tasters wrote that it had a tint of green in the coloring that made it look like "you rinsed lettuce with it, put it in a salad spinner, and was subjected to drinking it." They also said it looked gray, as if "someone mixed putty with cement and some water" to make it.

Tasters wrote that it had a tint of green in the coloring that made it look like "you rinsed lettuce with it, put it in a salad spinner, and was subjected to drinking it." They also said it looked gray, as if "someone mixed putty with cement and some water" to make it.
Oat milk blob pictured here.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

On a scale ranging from 1 (labeled "Rotten") to 5 (labeled "Yummy") Oatly's stench raked in mostly rotten ratings — two people gave it a neutral score. While two tasters said there was no distinct smell, there were three very offended noses in the room: "It smelled like an old arts and crafts drawer with notes of paste and Play-Doh."

On a scale ranging from 1 (labeled "Rotten") to 5 (labeled "Yummy") Oatly
No one wants to smell arts and crafts while they're eating.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Thoughts on viscosity ranged from "somewhat watery" to "basically heavy cream," but overall, the taste was unanimously unpleasant. Participants said it reminded them of "something you're not supposed to taste. Like putty or something."

Thoughts on viscosity ranged from "somewhat watery" to "basically heavy cream," but overall, the taste was unanimously unpleasant. Participants said it reminded them of "something you
It was appalling.      Hollis Johnson/Insider

Others said it left "a weird taste in my mouth" and made them "self-conscious about my after-milk breath."

Others said it left "a weird taste in my mouth" and made them "self-conscious about my after-milk breath."
Yes, after-milk breath is a real thing.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

After tasting and examining all the cups of straight-up milk and alt-milk, we decided to see how each tasted in coffee, a common use for milk.

After tasting and examining all the cups of straight-up milk and alt-milk, we decided to see how each tasted in coffee, a common use for milk.
Some were delicious while others were not.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

The top-ranking milk drink for coffee wound up being one of the alt-milks — and incidentally, one of the lowest-ranking drinks for consuming plain: the almond milk.

The top-ranking milk drink for coffee wound up being one of the alt-milks — and incidentally, one of the lowest-ranking drinks for consuming plain: the almond milk.
It's bad on its own, but great in coffee.      Joey Hadden/Insider

Tasters described it as having a tolerable — even enjoyable — amount of sweetness. Some said it tasted like ice cream or a coffee float and said they could see themselves drinking it every day.

Tasters described it as having a tolerable — even enjoyable — amount of sweetness. Some said it tasted like ice cream or a coffee float and said they could see themselves drinking it every day.
Some were pleasantly surprised.      Hollis Johnson/Insider

The worst cup of coffee we tasted was the one featuring the oat milk. While there are loads of online arguments that disagree ...

The worst cup of coffee we tasted was the one featuring the oat milk. While there are loads of online arguments that disagree ...
Agree to disagree, fellow alt-milk reviewers.      Joey Hadden/Insider

... our tasters said, "it's so close to being really good but something about it just isn't." We thought it tasted "horrid," like paste, and that the alt-milk masked the coffee flavor to the point where "it doesn't even taste like a cup of coffee anymore."

... our tasters said, "it
A coffee that doesn't taste like coffee? No thank you!      Hollis Johnson/Insider

One taster wrote: "It tastes unnatural, unpleasant, and something I'd never want to be subjected to again. It's a confusing, thick, and murky drink that does coffee — no matter how bad it may be — a disservice."

One taster wrote: "It tastes unnatural, unpleasant, and something I
Even the worst office coffee would be offended.      Hollis Johnson/Insider

Next, it was time to try the cereal. We used Fruit Loops because of their distinct, fruity flavor, their ability to affect the flavor of the milk they're sitting in, and — of course — because they're fun to look at!

Next, it was time to try the cereal. We used Fruit Loops because of their distinct, fruity flavor, their ability to affect the flavor of the milk they
Yum!      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

It was a close call, but ultimately the lactose-free milk and the soy milk tied for the winner of this category. While the lactose-free milk seemed to take on the flavor of the cereal best, the soy milk was the most delightfully sweet option.

It was a close call, but ultimately the lactose-free milk and the soy milk tied for the winner of this category. While the lactose-free milk seemed to take on the flavor of the cereal best, the soy milk was the most delightfully sweet option.
Silk soy milk was drink No. 5 and is pictured above.      Hollis Johnson/Insider

But, some tasters noted the soy milk's inability to keep its texture: "It had a light viscosity, creating a weird runny contrast with the cereal and milk." Another said it looked gross.

But, some tasters noted the soy milk
Silk soy milk and Fruit Loops aren't a surefire win.      Hollis Johnson/Insider

The lactose-free milk didn't seem to have that problem: "It has a thick enough consistency to hold its own with the cereal, but it also creates the ideal cereal-milk combination."

The lactose-free milk didn
Lactaid was milk No. 2 and is pictured above.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Although we thought the oat milk was less horrendous after eating it with Fruit Loops, the smell, taste, and color were all still strong enough to be a turnoff.

Although we thought the oat milk was less horrendous after eating it with Fruit Loops, the smell, taste, and color were all still strong enough to be a turnoff.
Even cereal couldn't save Oatly in this taste test.      Hollis Johnson/Insider

We tasted some French toast next. The breakfast food was made that morning, so it was decently fresh.

We tasted some French toast next. The breakfast food was made that morning, so it was decently fresh.
We left out usual spices for the dish like cinnamon and vanilla extract to try and keep the milk flavor at the forefront.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

There was no unanimous winner or loser for this round. It was pretty difficult to tell the difference between the dishes, so if you're making French toast this weekend, it doesn't seem to matter what type of milk or dairy substitute you use from a taste standpoint.

There was no unanimous winner or loser for this round. It was pretty difficult to tell the difference between the dishes, so if you
It was tough to tell the difference between French toasts.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

After all the drinking and eating, the four tasters who went into the tasting blind worked together to guess the order in which they tasted the milk and alt-milk — they numbered them from left to right. Tasters thought the skim milk was the first milk they tried and the lactose-free milk was the last.

After all the drinking and eating, the four tasters who went into the tasting blind worked together to guess the order in which they tasted the milk and alt-milk — they numbered them from left to right. Tasters thought the skim milk was the first milk they tried and the lactose-free milk was the last.
They thought the Lactaid was the variety they liked the least, but many of them actually liked it in a few different ways.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Even though we got some colleagues to weigh-in on the ranking, there was still one more important test that the milk drinks had to pass: We had to try the foam.

Even though we got some colleagues to weigh-in on the ranking, there was still one more important test that the milk drinks had to pass: We had to try the foam.
Steamed milk is in a number of coffee drinks.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

If you're a coffee-drinker whose habits include more than just drip coffee with milk, you understand that the type of milk used for your foamy treat is a decision that can have cappuccino-ruining consequences. And if you're a pour-it-and-get-on-with-your-day customer, well, now you know the severity of the situation.

If you
Regular coffee is on the left and the cappuccino is on the right.      Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

We went to our local barista and ordered steamed milk in the five different varieties they had on offer: whole, skim, almond, soy, and oat.

We went to our local barista and ordered steamed milk in the five different varieties they had on offer: whole, skim, almond, soy, and oat.
The shop didn't stock 2% or 1% fat milk.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Each of these steamed milk and alt-milk options had very distinct pros and cons. The first thing we noticed was how each drink reacted to being steamed in the first place — sometimes the foam head would separate completely from the hot milk underneath like the oat and soy milks ...

Each of these steamed milk and alt-milk options had very distinct pros and cons. The first thing we noticed was how each drink reacted to being steamed in the first place — sometimes the foam head would separate completely from the hot milk underneath like the oat and soy milks ...
There is a clear line of separation.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

... and sometimes it was a beautifully smooth transition from one layer to the next, like with the whole milk.

... and sometimes it was a beautifully smooth transition from one layer to the next, like with the whole milk.
We couldn't tell where the head ended and the hot milk started.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

As cappuccino aficionados, we decided that from here on out, we're ordering our favorite afternoon snack and nightcap with whole milk only. The way it flowed from layer to layer, kept the creamy integrity of the milk itself, and created a 1/2-inch-thick foam head with barely-there bubbles was truly stunning.

As cappuccino aficionados, we decided that from here on out, we
Besides, it just plain old tasted the best.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

If you're opposed to whole milk, and you enjoy the taste of almond milk, that is the next best option. It really keeps the integrity of the almond milk taste and features a 1/2-inch-thick froth on top — it's more of a bubbly froth than the whole milk's airy foam.

If you
The almond milk had a weird gray color, though.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

If you don't like the taste of almond milk, then skim would be the next-best choice. It had a foam head closer to 1/4 of an inch thick and had a more noticeable transition when sipping through the top layer to the bottom, more liquid layer.

If you don
It wasn't as seamless of a sipping experience as the whole milk was.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

The steamed soy milk separated into two distinct layers the fastest, but the taste was quite mild. The top layer was super frothy with tiny bubbles and closer to 1 inch thick — the thickest of all five. This was a no-go for us because of the separation, but if you want as mild of a taste as possible this is a fine, non-dairy option.

The steamed soy milk separated into two distinct layers the fastest, but the taste was quite mild. The top layer was super frothy with tiny bubbles and closer to 1 inch thick — the thickest of all five. This was a no-go for us because of the separation, but if you want as mild of a taste as possible this is a fine, non-dairy option.
The foam layer and the hot milky layer were very different, which makes for a weird drinking experience.      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Lastly, again, is the oat milk. It had the same flavor steamed as it did cold, and the 1/2-inch-thick head nearly stands alone from the hot milk layer underneath. The foam is made of bubbles slightly larger than those in the whole and skim milks, which makes for a slightly more stiff and airy residue.

Lastly, again, is the oat milk. It had the same flavor steamed as it did cold, and the 1/2-inch-thick head nearly stands alone from the hot milk layer underneath. The foam is made of bubbles slightly larger than those in the whole and skim milks, which makes for a slightly more stiff and airy residue.
Sorry, oat milk, we tried!      Rachel Askinasi/Insider

While we all expected to love oat milk solely because of the hype — just look at Oatly's epic-ly cleaver branding ...

While we all expected to love oat milk solely because of the hype — just look at Oatly
I really do love the include-every-copy-idea-we-came-up-with mentality.      Joey Hadden/Insider

... and we do appreciate that alt-milk companies like Oatly are trying to "help the food industry become more accountable for its actions" ...

... and we do appreciate that alt-milk companies like Oatly are trying to "help the food industry become more accountable for its actions" ...
Their story is written on the carton.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

Source: Oatly

... after tasting oat milk five different ways, we determined that it is without a doubt the loser in this lineup.

... after tasting oat milk five different ways, we determined that it is without a doubt the loser in this lineup.
We still like the bus advertisements, though!      Joey Hadden/Business Insider

At the end of the day, we determined the best milk for steaming is whole milk, the best for coffee is almond milk, the winning choices for cereal are soy and lactose-free 2% milk, and the best for drinking straight is whole milk.

At the end of the day, we determined the best milk for steaming is whole milk, the best for coffee is almond milk, the winning choices for cereal are soy and lactose-free 2% milk, and the best for drinking straight is whole milk.
It was a team effort.      Hollis Johnson/INSIDER

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