NotMilk – sustainability and ethical review

NotMilk is a brand of pea-based, vegan milk that’s produced by the Chilean company, NotCo. I picked up the full fat version of NotMilk – looking very milk-like in a refrigerated white carton – at the Grocery Outlet for $2.99 (half-gallon; normally $4.99). There’s also a 2% fat version available and I would get that lower-fat version if choosing again, because it turns out that the main ingredient in my “whole milk” (whole not-milk) is sunflower oil. So, how does it taste?

NotMilk is closer to cow’s milk in taste and texture than most vegan milks, although it’s not quite in a class of its own. It’s actually pretty similar to Ripple milk, which is made by Bay Area company, Ripple Foods. NotCo make a big fuss over their food development process, which hinges on their artificial intelligence (AI) platform. This AI algorithm, which they name Giuseppe, helps with identification of ingredients that can contribute beneficial properties to the food – an example that they provide is the lactones in pineapple, which are similar to the lactones in milk.

NotMilk sustainability and review.  The image is of Giuseppe, a contestant in the Great British Bake Off, 2021. Giuseppe is also the name of NotMilk's artificial intelligence (AI) platform.
NotMilk’s culinary AI genius: Giuseppe. Oh no, wait, that’s Giuseppe from Bake Off : )

Despite the fanfare over Giuseppe, if you look at the ingredients for NotMilk you’ll see they are quite similar to those of Ripple, which has been around for years. I happened to have a bottle of Ripple milk in my fridge, so I took the opportunity to compare NotMilk and Ripple in various situations, over the last few weeks.

NotMilk versus Ripple milk

Here’s a summary of my comparison of NotMilk to Ripple milk in various situations:

Tea: NotMilk worked very well in black tea, complementing the flavor and approximating dairy milk pretty well. I would say the same thing for Ripple. Both milks can sometimes separate a little bit out of the tea, depending on a few factors – pH and the ratio of milk to tea. If you do encounter this first-world problem of separation, using a little more milk can help avoid it. However, it wasn’t a big problem in either case – I can see some visual separation but there wasn’t any kind of lumpiness (ew!) or major textural change. So, basically, both performed well in tea.

Coffee: Pretty similar to the situation with tea – both NotMilk and Ripple performed well in coffee although there was  a little separation in both cases, sometimes. In this case, I preferred the flavor of my coffee with Ripple – the NotMilk added a slightly fruity flavor from the minor ingredients (pineapple and cabbage). So, both were quite good but I slightly preferred Ripple.

Cereal: Both milks work fine with cold cereal and I would use either one again. Again, Ripple is more neutral, but some people might like the slightly fruity flavor of NotMilk in their cereal.

With two such similar products, I will probably decide on which one to support more based on ethics. So I’ll get to the ethical review soon – first, let’s look at the ingredients and nutrition facts.

NotMilk – ingredients and nutrition facts

NotMilk (whole) – Ingredients

Water, sunflower oil, pea protein, contains less than 2% of: sugar, pineapple juice concentrate, dipotassium phosphate, calcium carbonate, gellan gum, acacia gum, salt, monocalcium phosphate, natural flavor, cabbage juice concentrate, vitamin D2, vitamin B12. Made in facilities that also process milk, soy, almonds and coconut.

Vegan, Halal, Kosher, gluten-free, non-GMO.

Check out this article from Go Dairy Free on how the NotMilk ingredients have changed in 2021. Note that Whole Foods still list the old ingredients – a bit sloppy, Bezos, considering that you own stakes in NotCo and Whole Foods!

For comparison, here are the ingredients for Ripple milk (original): water, pea protein blend (water, pea protein), cane sugar, sunflower oil, contains less than 1% of vitamin a palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin B12, tricalcium phosphate, dipotassium phosphate, sunflower lecithin, natural flavor, sea salt, guar gum, gellan gum.

Fairly similar, right? The unusual ingredients that NotMilk attribute to their AI platform are the juices of pineapple and cabbage. The main ingredients for both products are water, pea protein, sunflower oil and sugar.

Not Milk sustainability ethical review. The image shows the front and back of a carton of NotMilk (whole milk). The Nutrition Facts are highlighted and also listed in the text below the image.

Nutrition Facts per cup (240 mL) of NotMilk: 100 calories, 8 g fat, 7 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 3 g sugars (includes 3 g added sugars), 4 g protein. 25% vitamin D, 25% calcium, 35% vitamin B12.

Ripple milk (original) contains twice as much protein, half as much fat, similar carbs, twice the added sugars, and higher vitamin content, compared to NotMilk (e.g., Ripple provides 100% of the recommended daily allowance of B12, compared to 35% in NotMilk).

Overall, I prefer Ripple over NotMilk for ingredients and nutritional content. The only positive for NotMilk is the lower added sugar content. As mentioned, the main ingredient of NotMilk is sunflower oil, which I find a bit odd – I would go for the 2% fat version if buying again.

Ethical rating for NotMilk

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of NotMilk, which I’m scoring 3.5 Green Stars:

  • A vegan product.
  • Ingredients are not organic. It is non-GMO, but there are more important issues.
  • For example, the vast majority of non-organic sunflower crops grown in the Americas are treated with bee-killing neonics. Sunflower oil is the main ingredient, so that’s a bummer.
  • NotMilk reports sustainability metrics of 92% less water, 74% less energy, and 74% less CO2, compared to dairy milk. This internal analysis is not shared, however. Based on the similarity of the ingredients to Ripple milk, the numbers do look about right (and Ripple Foods did publish their analysis).
  • I appreciate that it’s a South American company that’s introducing vegan burgers, milk, etc., to a population that traditionally has a high meat intake (the NotBurger is available in Chile, Brazil and Argentina; NotMilk is available in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and the US).
  • Packaging is a paperboard carton (the simpler, refrigerated type) which may be recyclable or at least compostable.
  • Room for improvement: the major improvement that NotMilk needs is to switch to organic sunflower oil, or at least pesticide-free. Would be 4.5 green stars in that case.
Not Milk sustainability ethical review. A carton of NotMilk (whole) is shown over a graphic score of 3.5 out of 5 green stars. This represents an ethical rating for NotMilk's social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for NotMilk:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value
  • 3.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

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