Learn the science behind:
Just because you are allergic to milk, use less dairy milk out of concern for the environment doesn’t mean you can’t eat pancakes anymore! It so happens, pancakes don’t really need (cow’s) milk. They’re actually very flexible regarding the type of liquid you add to them! Nowadays there are plenty of alternative milks out there that serve perfectly fine in your pancakes. We’ll be zooming in on oat milk.
What is oat milk?
Whereas dairy milk comes from a cow and is technically ready to go once the cow is milked, oat milk is not. Instead, oats are processed into oat milk by soaking them into liquid and breaking down some of their more starchy components to get a smooth liquid. Nevertheless, they particles in oat milk are larger than that in cow’s milk. As such, if you leave a bottle for long enough, you will notice these particles sinking to the bottom due to sedimentation.
During processing, manufacturers may add some additional fats, gums to improve structure and phosphates to help emulsify and stabilize the pH-value. We’ve covered the overall oat milk production process in far more detail in another post. It is actually quite a recent invention, dating back to the ’90s.
Since oat milk is mostly made of just oats, it contains a considerable amount of fiber (about 8g/liter) and (complex) carbohydrates. It doesn’t contain as much protein as cow’s milk does and the proteins are different, which is why it will behave slightly differently than milk. Luckily, this is most important in applications where milk has a core structural role (e.g. caramels) and not as much in pancakes!
How does oat milk look & taste?
When you first see oat milk you might notice it’s not white like cow’s milk is. Instead, it’s a light brownish color. If oat milk has been standing around for a while it will turn whiter, but the mere factor that some of those brown particles sink to the bottom. By giving it a quick shake though, all of those are dispersed throughout.
With regards to taste: it definitely tastes a little different than cow’s milk, the easiest product to compare it to. Funnily enough, it tastes a bit like the milk left after you’ve eaten a bowl of milk with oats! It’s a little watery, but has a nice, maybe nutty?, flavor to it.
This flavor is important when it comes to pancakes. Technically, you can easily make pancakes with water instead of milk, however, the extra flavor of a milk really enriches a pancake.
Using oat milk in pancakes
So how does oat milk work in pancakes? For that, let’s have a look at pancakes themselves first. There are a lot of different types of pancakes, so for this thought exercise we’ll choose one, an American pancake, but most work very similarly!
Pancake science recap
American pancakes are a cooked batter made with flour, a liquid, a raising agent, and often something to help firm up the texture and provide some fattiness (eggs). The flour forms the core of the pancake. By cooking the flour it holds onto all that added moisture and firms up, mostly because of the starches. The liquid helps the flour to bind together and enables the starches to gelatinize. Baking soda and/or baking powder, both raising agents, help ensure that cooked starch becomes nice and airy instead of stodgy. Last but not least, the binder helps ensure that light and fluffy texture. Some fat will prevent the pancakes from drying out
Role of oat milk
The main functional role of the liquid in pancakes is really to bind all that flour together to make a smooth batter. While cooking the liquid is what enables the starch to cook by releasing some of its components into the water and thickening it up. If you’re using milk, you’re also adding flavor. The flavor of milk is added and the proteins and sugars in milk add flavor, by themselves, but also by taking part in the Maillard reaction. This reaction creates a lot of different flavors and a nice brown color.
It so happens, oat milk can take over most of these roles (except for the milky flavor, but it does add a little oaty flavor!).
You can substitute oat milk for dairy milk in almost any pancake (the recipe below is just one example). It also worked well for Dutch pancakes and making crepes with oat milk shouldn’t give you a problem either. Of course, the final pancakes might taste just a little different, however, since you tend to eat a pancake with some sort of topping (think maple syrup, fruit, cheese, bacon, …) those nuanced differences aren’t that pronounced that you’d notice them.
Have you made anything with oat milk? Would love to hear how that’s working for you!
The first major commercial manufacturer of oat milk, Oatly