Oat Milk, My Oat Milk

Never in my pushing-40 years have I desired an alternative to cow’s milk. Ever. Writing this post is the biggest surprise to my former future self. Past Zoe is questioning my life choices.

But as I’ve gotten older and have begun choosing healthier options when it comes to nutrition and self-care, I have started doing things such as consciously eating less meat. Some days are wholly vegetarian but I consider it a good day if only one of my meals out of three has meat in it. Same goes with dairy. While you’ll have to pry cheese from my cold dead hands, milk has slowly been less of a priority on my grocery list. In my household, it’s used far more for cooking than consuming as a drink or even putting on cereal. And the longer I go without drinking it, the more I notice its nefarious side effects on my digestive system. Cookies and milk, a rare treat but didn’t used to be in my younger years, is now a loaded decision. Do I risk the effects of all the refined sugar, fat, calories, and effects of the milk?

I’m unsure where the idea germinated but I know I read an article, likely from Twitter, about oat milk’s prevalence (really, a comeback). It was specifically about Oatly! (more on that in a bit) but the result was a kernel–or oat, if you will–lodged itself in my brain until I succumbed to the temptation to experiment with oat milk to see if it could be a true alternative to cow’s milk.

Being the researcher that I am, I looked up articles and reviews on the available brands of oat milk out there and which ones were getting rated as best tasting. Three brands rose to the top of most people’s lists (including general availability): Pacific Foods, Califia Farms, and Oatly!, the exclamation point of which is part of their branding.

Initially, I couldn’t find Pacific Foods or Oatly! but I did find Califia Farms. I found their unsweetened oat milk at Meijer and bought myself a bottle. It was in the regular refrigerated milk area. I’ve since learned that Pacific Foods is unrefrigerated and not sold in the milk fridges.

Thoughts on Califia Farms: the color of it looks a bit bluish gray, similar to skim milk, which I’ve always abhorred. While unsweetened, it does have a sweeter, distinctive oat flavor, similar to what you would find if you had eaten a bowl of Cheerios and you’re down to the remaining milk in the bowl. All told, I preferred using this milk in smoothies but not on its own and not in coffee. Still, if it’s the only kind I could find, it would be just fine as an alternative milk.

Eventually, I did manage to find Oatly! sold at my local Target, both the ‘regular’ kind of unsweetened milk and the Barista version. The Barista version has a couple extra grams of fat but is otherwise identical to regular Oatly. At first, I could only found a quart of the Barista version and tried that at home, and found it had a nice neutral flavor and color. It didn’t taste as nutty or oaty as Califia Farms and isn’t as gray in color. Note: the barista version of any of these oat milks foams similarly to regular milk, which is why it’s been so popular with coffee shops.

At home, I quickly went through the quart of the Barista version and when I returned to Target, I found the half gallons of the regular unsweetened milk, which has 5g of fat per serving. All of the oat milks I tried have similar grams of carbs and sugars. I believe it averages out to 16-17g of carbs per glass of oat milk, which is a bit high (compared to 11g of whole milk), so I try to reserve consumption to coffee, smoothies, etc, with the occasional exception for drinking.

The winner overall in my book is Oatly! original unsweetened milk. It mimics cow’s milk so well that I ventured to try a small glass of it to drink when we had chili a couple of weeks ago, and it tasted exactly like having an ice cold glass of cow’s milk while having something rich to eat. It was seriously delicious! The bonus was not having any G.I. distress afterwards. Oatly also claims to be the OG oat milk from the 1990s. Maybe they’ve just perfected it and that’s why it’s so dang good. There was even a shortage in 2018, which caused some brief panic, but they seem to be back on track now.

Since getting onto this bandwagon, at least two of the local coffee shops in my area have begun offering oat milk for lattes. I have had two oat milk lattes since (made with Pacific Foods oat milk, so I’ve officially tried it) and they were both excellent. What I noticed was that because oat milk is generally thinner, even when having a similar fat content, the espresso flavor from the latte punches through a bit more. That’s only a bad thing if you really can’t stand the bitterness or flavor of good coffee. I liked knowing I wasn’t filling up on bloating milk with my breakfast, nor watering down the flavor of my latte. I plan to keep trying oat milk lattes where and when I can find them. I recommend you see if your shop/s have them, as well! It’s a great place to start if you’ve been thinking of trying an alternative to cow’s milk but can’t stand soy or almond milk, which was the case for me.

Are you an oat milk convert as I am? Let me know in the comments!

*Miniature soap box moment: it should be mentioned that consuming a lot of dairy and meat not only has effects on one’s health but the meat and dairy industries contribute to the current climate crisis.  If all of us meat/dairy consumers reduced our intake, even a little, it could save areas of the planet suffering from deforestation to make room for farm animals (especially cattle). While I have not gone full vegetarian by any means, I am taking more responsibility for being mindful about my meat and dairy consumption. It does make a difference, both in health effects and our ecosystem. I know this could be considered a controversial take but…it is my blog, so that’s my full opinion on the matter.

Drugstore Discrimination

No, this isn’t a post about being discriminated against in a drugstore. It is actually about how discriminating I (and others) can be when it comes to choosing a drugstore.

Hm, I may have lost some readers at this point since it’s not quite as dramatic as all that. I should also note that when I say “drugstore,” I really mean the shopping part of one of these places. I am not referring to small or independent pharmacies.

Anyhow, I have noticed in my years of frequenting drugstores that I became quite picky about which one(s) became my favorites. For example, where I grew up, Walgreen’ses were and are everywhere. So before I went off to college, this was my go-to place for picking up all my toiletries, movie candy, emergency supplies, etc. It was ever so much closer than the Target (and no Wal-Marts in my area at the time) so it didn’t make sense to “run to Target” when I needed stuff.

Then when I went off to college out of state, I had to get used to a whole new set of drugstores, primarily CVS and Rite-Aid. I had never heard of CVS before but by default, it became my go-to place since it was not too far from campus. It really did take a long time for me to like CVS. I think because of the layout or just the fact that I’m one of those people who hates change and so anything different was bad.

Cue my move to New York City, which is riddled with drugstores (and independent pharmacies, for that matter), where CVS, Rite-Aid and Duane Reade dominate. What’s that? Never heard of Duane Reade? Yeah, I hadn’t either. I didn’t “get” it. For those interested, the chain’s first store was at the corner of Duane and Reade in Manhattan, and thus the franchise was born. What sucked about Duane Reade was that for four out of the five years that I lived there, it was this horribly laid out, ugly drugstore. Red, white and blue were its colors (shockingly hick) and they ranged from being squished and cramped to lavish, two-story deals. One of these was close by to my last office building. Unfortunately, it was still very tight and all of the important stuff one needed to buy (cards, pharmacy items, greeting cards, girly stuff) was all on the second floor. To make matters worse, it was a no cell phone zone. That is to say, if you were to have AT&T and an iPhone, you were pretty much screwed if you tried to have a phone call or even text someone whilst you shopped. Ain’t happening.

(If you’re REALLY interested in knowing which Duane Reade this was, lemme know. Not a surprise it was in Midtown, where cell phone “traffic” led to epic Call Failure.)

It wasn’t until I lived in Astoria, Queens that they opened up a fabulous Duane Reade with new colors (lavender and white, ahhhh), a sleek, cleaner layout and “extended hours” (10pm!), that I really got into going. Up until that point, all I could choose was Rite-Aid and let’s just say they don’t put their best foot forward there, mkay? DR even got on board with their points program. At first it was really kickass because every $100 you spent there, you’d get a $5 coupon to use on anything in the store. Then they caught on that that was a fantastic deal and they changed it so that you had to earn 500 “points” before getting the same thing. Lame. My friend Meg and I both lamented over the shift in program after we were earning points like hotcakes.

I was happy to throw away my key card doohickey for Duane Reade when I moved, let’s just put it that way.

However! CVS’ points program I actually really really like, and to me, that is their saving grace. Not to mention, their stores (in the Midwest, at least) are rather grand sizeable. My eyes were as wide as saucers when I first walked into the gigantic CVS that is right up the street near me now and they not only sell hard liquor but it’s an entire liquor section with low brow to high brow spirits, wine, wine coolers, imported and domestic beer, mixers, etc. They even put the bags of ice right at the entrance to that section. Pretty handy. I don’t even buy liquor but once or twice a year but when I told folks back in New York about it, they were all, “Some what?” It’s clean, laid out well, they have a fabulous selection of pretty much everything, it’s open 24-hours, and you get coupons and CVS bucks when you are a frequent buyer. I really have nothing bad to say about this place.

Insert heavenly music.

My best friend Helen is an avid shopper at CVS. She lurves her some CVS. She emphasizes the “C” and says it like, “At the CEE-vee-es.” She shops there for sales and other goodies and the checkout people know her by name. Although, to be fair, most people know her by name because she’s awesome like that and chats everyone up. Some of her best stories are from CVS, as are her finds.

Another good friend of mine who lives out in sunny LA told me that he, too, is a big CVS fan. They only just got Walgreen’s out in his area, and I believe his exact words were, “It just seems like [Walgreen’s] stepped into the game too late. We already have CVS and Rite-Aid. Who’s this new bitch in town?” And to be fair, Walgreen’s doesn’t do a frequent buyer program or anything, so you have to go just because you like it. They do sell Hallmark cards, are generally large, have a drive-thru, usually have good hours, and are laid out well. They can be a little pricey but they do send out weekly coupons and have sales. They’re not all bad. But if you are like him and myself, change is bad. Plus, there is something to be said for saturation of the market.

However, Walgreen’s has recently re-entered my life as well, and there is one not too far from my house and one within walking distance of my office. My love for Walgreen’s is being renewed, if only by default. They are slowly regaining favor in my heart.

Rite-Aid I really can’t speak for – like, at all. Are there any Rite-Aid fans out there? Toot your horns!

Pretty much my view of Rite-Aid.

As for purchasing toiletries from Target, Wal-Mart and now Bed, Bath & Beyond, I totally get that. I really do. When I have a toooon of stuff to buy, because toiletries usually all run out at the same time, I make my way over to one of these fine establishments and stock up. I’m not forgetting about you loyalists to these places. They definitely have merit. And you can buy absolutely everything else while you’re shopping there, too.

Last but not least, the concept of shopping at a drugstore was apparently foreign to my sweet other half, who didn’t understand what I meant about “going to the drugstore” when he and I first got together. He was like, “What do you mean?” He actually thought I needed to go there for OTC stuff. I had to gently correct him that that is where I shop for my things. He was a bit perplexed, to say the least. When he and I lived in NYC for a year, though, he caught on quickly, since they were some of the only places open and close by. He grew up in a Wal-Mart and Target culture, so I can’t fault him. But it sure was cute.

So, in summation, in order of preference:

1. CVS
2. Walgreen’s
3. Other

I’d love to hear back. Do you shop at drugstores? If so, which is your favorite? What do you like about them? Or do you shun them and only go for the bigger places that may have more value?