Oat Milk Sales Skyrocketed During The Pandemic- Here’s Why

by Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD

Last Updated: May 13, 2020

According to retail sales data from Nielsen, sales of oat milk increased 323% at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, sales of oat milk even outpaced hand sanitizer (up only 312%). So why is everyone rushing to purchase this dairy alternative? Oat milk is shelf-stable until opened, and once opened, has a longer shelf life than cow’s milk. It’s also vegan and very versatile in its culinary uses. Read on to learn why it fully deserves its newfound fame.

No-Cow Creaminess
For a plant, it’s creamy! We consider oat milk a good competitor to traditional half and half or cream in coffee. It’s not going to be quite the same as the real cow deal, but it is much creamier and has less aftertaste than other milk alternatives, offering the most similarity in our eyes. While coconut milk or coconut cream is seen as a top contender in the creaminess category, it’s difficult to override that strong flavor. Even coconut lovers might not want everything to taste like coconut. Some brands offer different versions of oat milk that have different flavors or creaminess such as plain, vanilla, extra creamy or a coffee creamer version. The good news is that the creaminess is ‘au naturel’, purely from the oats, not from additives.

No-Cow Nutrition
For some, oat milk is a nutritious alternative, but for others they may want to graze in different pastures. It depends on any differing nutritional needs or preferences you may have. If you are unsure if oat milk is right for your medical and nutritional needs, then it’s recommended that you consult a Registered Dietitian. Here’s how oat milk compares to cow’s milk, nutritionally speaking:
Saturated fat – Oat milk contains none.
Protein – Oat milk contains more protein than many other plant-based milks (but less protein than soy, pea or cow’s milk). Oat milk contains 2 to 4 grams/cup while rice, almond and coconut milk only contain 0 to 1g/cup.
Fiber – Oat milk contains an extra 1-2 grams of fiber above other milks, and it is the cholesterol-lowering, soluble fiber type. Most milks contain 0 to 1 gram of fiber per cup. Oat milk contains 1-2 grams per cup.
Vitamins/minerals – Oat milk contains slightly more Vitamin B2 (Thiamin) and iron than cow’s milk. These are nutrients that are typical of whole grains.
Carbohydrates – Though this may not be a concern for everyone, oat milk contains more carbohydrates than many other milks (except rice milk which is also higher). Creamier versions tend to be slightly higher in carbohydrates because they contain more oats and less water.
Protein – Oat milk contains less protein than soy, pea or cow’s milk (but more protein than many other plant-based milks). Soy milk contains 6-8g/cup, pea milk contains 8-10g/cup, and cow’s milk contains 8g/cup.
Amino acids – Oat milk doesn’t contain all nine essential amino acids, like soy and dairy do, making this an incomplete protein.
Vitamins/minerals – Cow’s milk can be higher in Calcium, and Vitamins A, D, and B12 but most oat milks are fortified with these nutrients, making it comparable to cow’s milk. However, check the label to be sure. If you make your own oat milk, then it won’t be fortified and thus will lower those nutrients.
No-Cow Cooking
Before COVID-19, oat milk’s rise to popularity was said to have originated with baristas. It has been prized as one of the best milk alternatives to produce the coveted coffee froth. Trust us, it does. We’ve whipped up some comparable oat milk froth when playing at home barista. Besides coffee drinks, it’s also suited to smoothies, creamy soups, baked goods, mashed potatoes, and casseroles. Bonus points: oat milk tends to not curdle as much as other milk alternatives!

Other No-Cow Benefits
Sustainability. When looking at emissions, land and water usage, oat milk has significantly less environmental impact than cow’s milk and requires less water usage than almond milk or rice milk. It’s similar in environmental impact to soy milk.

Allergen friendliness. As oats are not considered one of the top eight allergens and are naturally gluten free and lactose free, it may be easily tolerated by persons with allergies or food intolerances. However, since oats are often processed on the same equipment that processes wheat, then they may be easily contaminated. Therefore, people with gluten intolerance, celiac disease or a wheat allergy, must read labels to ensure the oat milk is made from gluten free oats.

Vegan. Whether for environmental reasons, animal rights, health or religious reasons, there’s no cow about it, oat milk is vegan. With the rise of plant-based eating, oat milk is sure to rise with it.

Final Verdict
It’s definitely worth trying. But, as with any food or beverage, oat milk may not be right for everyone. Most dietitians would agree that in terms of overall nutrition (protein content, less processing, nutrients), nothing compares to cow’s milk. A close second place in the nutrition category would go to soy milk, but oat milk certainly shines in some nutritional respects. When going beyond nutrition and considering flavor, sustainability, and usages, oat milk comes out in the lead of the herd compared to other milk alternatives. So, if choosing a milk alternative, then oat milk could be your cream of the crop.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD

Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD

A mom of 2 little kiddos and over 15 years’ experience in nutrition, Katy enjoys helping her patients squeeze good nutrition and activity into an already “full” life and find their own balance with nutrition and health while still enjoying food to the fullest. She is an expert in weight management, mindful eating, digestive health, anti-inflammatory nutrition, culinary nutrition, cooking/baking, and any other topic related to food! Outside of work, you’ll find her traveling, walking, jogging, beer tasting, and eating gelato.