The alternative milk category has exploded over the past few years, with varieties like almond, oat and macadamia reigning supreme, but barley milk is set to be even bigger. The only question is – is it healthy?
First, humans milked cows. Then they decided that drinking dairy wasn’t so great so they milked nuts instead, leading to what I like to call the the Age of Almond Milk. But it didn’t stop with almonds. Next, they made chia milk, oat milk, and for some reason, cucumber milk. Apart from being dairy-free, some alt-milks are also more environmentally friendly – like barley milk.
What is barley milk?
Traditionally used to make beer, barley is packed with antioxidants and vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B1, manganese and selenium, but during the beer-making process, these nutrient-packed grains often go to waste. Enter: barley milk.
While it’s possible to make your own barley milk at home (by soaking the grains in water overnight, much like almond milk), it’ll soon be available at your local café thanks to commercial geniuses like Take Two.
The US-based brand is now taking the leftover barley from beer production and turning it into a frothy, delicious milk. While the brew – which also contains a mix of pea protein, chicory root and coconut and sunflower oils – isn’t available in Oz just yet, it’s only a matter of time – but should you drink it?
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Is barley milk actually healthy?
According to dietitian Catherine Saxelby and founder of Food Watch… kind of? While straight barley milk doesn’t pack quite as big a punch as other alternative milks, blends that are fortified with other ingredients can help you meet your nutritional targets. “You want a mixture of protein, fat and carbohydrates,” says Saxelby. “But then I don’t know why it’s called ‘barley’ milk as it’s really a mixed milk that happens to have barley.”
If you’re unable to drink dairy for health reasons, barley milk might be the alt-milk for you, but if you’re able to stick to good old cow’s milk, Saxelby says that’s the way to go.
“If you can tolerate cow’s milk, it’s a healthier option for you and is always cheaper,” she says. “What’s more, it’s fresher and made from (mostly) a single ingredient. It’s one negative is that it is about two-thirds saturated fat, but whole-fat dairy is no longer implicated in heart disease according to the Heart Foundation of Australia.”
Saxelby also notes that soy milk is just as good – if not better – than most nut milks. “Available in full-fat and low-fat versions, soy milk has a calcium, protein and kilojoule profile that is most like cow’s milk,” she explains. “You can find many brands that are fortified so that nutritionally they deliver the calcium of cow’s milk. All you have to do is to check the label for 75 or 120mg calcium per 100mL, or look for ‘calcium phosphate’ or ‘calcium triphosphate’ on the ingredient list.”