Potatoes and I go way back. They are one of my oldest and dearest friends, one of the first things I learned how to cook for myself, and the only thing I could eat in the first trimester of pregnancy. They’re cheap, always in season somewhere, and with a lot of potassium and a little protein, fiber and even vitamin C, they have more nutritional value than they get credit for. Mashed, hashed, pierogi'd, or oven-fried, I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like.
So, I felt more than a little betrayed by their newest gig: potato milk. Potato milk?
How could you, potato? How could you?
What is potato milk?
As a nutrition professional, I love to try new things so that I can talk to clients knowledgeably about unfamiliar foods … and because it’s fun. We’re also an allergy family, so I thought I had tried every conceivable plant-based milk: coconut, walnut, flax, quinoa, pea, rice, banana. I’ve even made my own almond and hemp milks.
Enter Swedish brand Veg of Lund to burst my professional foodie bubble with its new, shelf-stable alternative milk named Dug, made from the humble potato. Dug claims that, in addition to its allergen-friendly, vegan ingredients, potatoes are more environmentally sound than most other plant milk bases, requiring far less water and land to grow. Those things are important to me, so I have resolved to swallow my misgivings and give it a try. Unfortunately, it’s not yet commercially available in the U.S., but there are recipes popping up all over the web so you can make your own at home. Is it a hot potato or not? Let’s give it a shot.
How to make potato milk
In general, the recipes online suggest boiling between 1 and 1½ cups of potato and blending it with a total of 3½ to 4 cups of water. There’s a wide variation in the amounts called for, but most suggest adding a pinch of salt, a little sugar or maple syrup, vanilla and almonds, which I felt was cheating. There are dozens of varieties of potatoes, with different textures, flavors and starch content, all of which are likely to affect the character of the milk. I had a few different ones to try, but I started with a Yukon Gold on a hunch, hoping the background butteriness and velvety texture will be the best approximation of dairy.
I boiled about 1½ cups (240 grams) of sliced potato in 4 cups of water. All of the recipes I read said to cook until tender but not falling apart, likely to try to guard against excess breakdown of the starches. I went for about seven minutes for these 1/2-inch slices.
I poured the liquid into the blender and added enough additional water to make a total of 4 cups. I also added a pinch of salt, but no sugar or vanilla yet — I wanted to know what the base tasted like first. Then I added the cooked potato and blended it on high. Most recipes say to blend for upwards of five minutes.
Now, not one of the recipes I read mentioned The Foam Issue. They all say to strain your potato milk through fine mesh or cheesecloth, but I really feel they glossed over the foam as an entity we’ll have to deal with. I had to scoop a lot off before straining, maybe because I used my trusty Vitamix. I love it because it could juice a brick, but maybe five minutes is too long with a really high-powered blender.
I strained it twice to get rid of the foam. Mostly. So, here it is. You might want to sit down.
It’s bad. Supremely bad. It’s translucent yellow with the texture of thin, boiled cornstarch. It smells like (surprise!) boiled potatoes. It tastes like boiled potatoes. All the recipes say you can use it as you would any plant-based milk. Well, to that I say, no. No, you cannot. To do so would be an affront to potatoes and to milk. Look at those potato starch granules, floating in the water like penguins in a Florida swimming pool. They’re obviously way off course and very embarrassed to be there.
So, I decided to cheat as the recipes encouraged me to do. I still refused to add almonds on principle, but I did add two teaspoons of sugar, another dash of salt and a couple of drops of vanilla. It was a little bit better, not so potato-y, but it’s still not really drinkable. Hoping it would be better in a recipe than it is solo, I decided to make made chai.
I added honey and poured in about half potato milk by volume. The chai covers the potato flavor and color fairly well. The potato adds a hint of richer mouthfeel. If you compare it to the thinner plant milks, it’s somewhere in the ballpark, but that isn’t really a compliment. It’s too low-fat to really round out the spice and too low in protein to be creamy.
I decided to try another variety, russet, hoping that using the ultimate classic, the king of potatoes, would improve the outcome.
Again, I boiled, blended and flavored as before.
Again with the foam.
I tried chilling it. It formed an unfortunate goo skin at the top and I had to shake it to redistribute. I struggled with how to put this food in its best light. Everything looks better in a wine glass, right? It’s not as translucent or as yellow, but the flavor is still the vegan equivalent of hot dog water.
I was disturbed by the persistent layer of foam despite all my straining and skimming. Determined, I decided to lean in, with a cappotchino.
Admittedly, this did not have enough foam to qualify as a real cappuccino, but it was almost drinkable. The weight of it was about like coffee with almond milk — thin but more heft than just black coffee. The texture of the foam was actually not bad. It had some large bubbles that properly foamed milk does not, but a lot of them are fine and fluffy. The thing is, they taste like potato (go figure), especially at the finish. It’s almost bitter, quite vegetal, most reminiscent of the smell of raw potato, with a smidge of dirt.
In short, absolutely not.
I skimmed it one more time and tried it in the form that is most fundamental if you’re looking for a real alternative to milk: over cold cereal. It’s actually not bad, something like skim milk. I don’t get any potato. The resultant cereal milk isn’t as creamy as I wanted it to be, but it wasn’t terrible.
The worst way I tried this one was "cream" gravy. No cream, no gravy. It is sadness in corporeal form. Even with roux and broth concentrate, it was thin and flavorless. As a Texan raised to believe cream gravy is one of the four food groups, the first element on the periodic table, and the most important of the three branches of government, I was offended with every cell of my body. Serving mashed potatoes with potato milk gravy should be a capital offense.
One of the recipes I read noted that you could use sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are actually a root tuber member of the morning glory family rather than a nightshade stem tuber like white potatoes, but they do cook up very similarly.
So, I dutifully sliced up 240 grams, boiled and blended. This one is very sweet, but it didn’t really foam up, and there’s no bitter aftertaste. It’s also not as much like a gel, although it’s not much like a milk, either. It doesn’t require sweetening or flavoring, but I did add a pinch of salt.
It’s so sweet that I don’t suggest trying to use it in most savory dishes. It wouldn’t work well in typical cream sauces, for example. You could use it as a base for smoothies, though, or a visually spectacular iced maple-chocolate macchiato. If I make this again, I’ll add a little coconut cream, but it was somehow pretty good as is.
Still, I feel like none of these pure potato efforts offer a real alternative to milk that would work in most recipes. I gave up and acquiesced to trying adding some almond. I’m really annoyed about this, because it’s such a bait-and-switch that undoes some of the purported environmental benefits of potato milk. Even Dug adds pea protein to their product, though; I think it’s really necessary to do so to make it usable in a wide variety of contexts. It adds expense and takes a lot more work but makes a far superior milk.
To make this version, I used a little less potato and added my own secret ingredient for the easiest almond milk: almond flour, a little less than a tablespoon per cup of hot water. You have to strain it through extra-fine cheesecloth or a nut milk bag to get rid of the powdery mouthfeel, but you can freeze the remaining almond pulp and use it to replace 1/4 of the flour in pancakes or muffins.
The resulting milk is brighter white, opaque, creamier and a little more nutritious. It didn’t foam as much, and I could absolutely drink this plain. Is it worth going to the trouble to add the boiled potato to my otherwise pretty serviceable homemade almond milk? I have to admit it seems to make it more stable for cooking, less likely to split in a sauce, and it added a truly superior texture to this pan pizza crust.
The combination of a starchy tuber with the fat and protein in a nut or legume is the best of both plant-milk worlds. I really like that approach both as a dietitian and a consumer. Still, I’m looking forward to being able to buy this off the shelf some day soon. Dug is calcium- and vitamin-fortified to make it closer to dairy milk in nutritional value, and they say it only makes cappuccino foam with your consent. I can dig it.
1 medium russet potato (about 1¼ cups diced, or about 200 grams)
4 cups water, plus a little more to correct volume
4 scant tablespoons almond flour
a dash or 2 of salt
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
a few drops of vanilla extract (optional)
Peel the potato and cut into half-inch slices.
Bring a pot of water to a boil, and boil potatoes until tender but not disintegrating, about 7 minutes.
Transfer the hot cooking water into a blender, reserving the cooked potato, and add the remaining ingredients to the hot water. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes to soften the almonds.
Add enough additional water to equal 4 cups total, and then add the potato to the blender. Blend on high about 4 to 5 minutes.
Strain through a very fine cheese cloth or nut milk bag. You can save the remaining almond pulp to add to pancakes or muffins.
Store the potato-almond milk covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days.