The Uncanny Valley of Milk

The low-FODMAP diet is working out very well for me. After using lactose-free milk for a couple of months, I got the notion to try an entirely dairy-free alternative: coconut milk. (I tried soy milk a few years ago, and vowed never to let it pass my lips again.)

Technically, I don’t think this is really coconut milk, but more “coconut milk drink”. Sure, it’s made with coconut, but it’s also fortified with rice and a variety of other substances. The first time I tried it, it threw me completely off-balance with a question I’d never considered before: “what are the essential qualities of milk that make me want to drink it?” Is it the mouthfeel? The flavour? What is the flavour of (cold) milk?

That led to other disconcerting questions like, why do we put milk on our breakfast cereals? What is about milk that transforms a bowl of muesli? It was a very confusing time in my life.

So anyway, the substance itself: it has about the same viscocity as milk. It has a very similar, silky mouthfeel, with a fresh coconutty flavour over a milky (milkish?) base. It tastes like milk flavoured with coconut. As a standalone beverage, it is actually quite pleasant.

(White Russians with coconut milk?)

But pour it into a glass, and it looks…wrong. It’s too white. When you swirl it around the glass, it doesn’t cling to the glass in the same way that milk would – it doesn’t have the right “legs”. Your hand hesitates ever so slightly as you move to pick up the glass. It’s in the Uncanny Valley of Milk.

(It also doesn’t go off after two weeks in the fridge.)

(Memories of watching non-Dutchies react after pouring themselves a glass of karnemelk by accident, thinking it was ordinary milk.)

So I ate it with my cereal for a couple of weeks. At first, coconut-flavoured rice krispies and corn flakes were an amusing novelty. But the fun wore off pretty quickly. Although the coconut flavour wasn’t overpowering, it provided more excitement than I was typically ready to deal with early in the morning.

(Can you cook with it? Abi doesn’t want to consider it for her coffee, but how would it do as the basis for Tuna Pasta? Would it add an exotic note, like in a Thai curry? Could you use it to make a white sauce?)

I’ve gone back to plain old semi-skimmed lactose-free milk with my breakfast now. Sweet, familiar, milk.

(So what is that flavour of milk?)


3 Replies to “The Uncanny Valley of Milk”

  1. As I said to you at the time, coconut milk looks like the circulatory fluid of the android in Alien. Not an appetizing thought, but inescapable once it’s in the head.

  2. @Abi – I’d tried to erase the android blood similarity from my memory. THANKS

    @Frank – You’re totally right. So many questions about this substance we call “milk”.

    There’s a point in Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer where an alien visitor refers to milk as “bovine mammary secretion”. That phrase has stuck with me a long time…


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