To make anything, you need to start with the right base and this principle applies to smoothies as much as anything else. Get the wrong base and you can end up with something that has the consistency of a mousse or tastes like fruit water. Both of which are great, if that’s what you were aiming for. But to get the perfect smoothie, you need to understand the different bases and what they bring to your drink. You need to start with the perfect base.
Fat, low fat, fat free…
Before we venture into the world of smoothie bases, a word on the healthy options. All of these options (well, apart from probably water) will come in low fat, fat free or other variations. The same goes with sugar. For me, smoothies are about getting the vitamins and minerals I’m missing out on because I don’t do well with the texture of fruit. Same reason I make creamed soups. But if you are more concerned about fat or sugar content, then apply the applicable fat or sugar free rating to the various bases discussed. Each to their own!
For many people, their experience with smoothies start out using cow’s milk because that’s what many of us have in the fridge. Milk has a lot going for it including being a source of protein and calcium as well as boosting the immune system and even possibly containing compounds to help fight cancer. Full fat milk of course contains fat and all of its associated issues so there are low fat, skimmed, semi-skimmed and reduced fat variations. Whichever you opt for, cow’s milk does work in smoothies but can be a little strong and overwhelm some of the flavours.
Soy milk is made with soybeans, same as tofu and are very popular in Asian countries such as China, Japan and Malaysia. Soy milk has grown in popularity in recent years and is readily available in supermarkets, even coming in different flavours such as vanilla and chocolate. I hesitantly tried it and was pleasantly surprised – it actually tastes better than normal milk in some ways.
Soy milk still contains plenty of protein as well as iron, calcium and riboflavin. It has a lot less fat than whole milk and virtually no cholesterol as well as having a lower number of calories than cow’s milk. It does contain more sugar than milk and some people can be allergic to it, so try it cautiously. For smoothies, it makes a great alternative to milk and is great for those who are lactose intolerant.
Likewise, almond milk is made from almonds and has a surprisingly long history. People have been drinking it since medieval times especially during Lent as it wasn’t a product coming from animals but from plants. It has a very low number of calories and no cholesterol or saturated fat as well as being lactose free. It does have all those plant proteins in it with their associated benefits.
Almond milk is said to boost overall health, combat free radicals that are damaging the body and improve the heart and brain function. It works particularly well with berries, also high in anti-oxidants, for a very healthy smoothie as well as with tropical fruits.
Coconut milk is classed as a nut milk, same as almond milk and is used in huge amounts in tropical diets. Places such as India and the Pacific Islands have been using it in their homeopathic medicines for generations as well as in their diets – the creamy texture and slightly sweet taste makes it popular.
Coconut milk does contain a high amount of saturated fat than almond milk as well as having a good amount of healthy fats in it too. Its taste goes well with tropical flavours as well as making green smoothies a little lighter when added with water.
So that’s a glimpse at the world of milk, animal and plant based. But if you don’t want milk then what else can you use for a smoothie base?
Water is a simple (and cheap) option, especially if your tap water is good to drink. Bottled water and filtered varieties also work well. Water is sugar free and has no calories in it as well as having no taste. While that might sound weird in a smoothie, it means that the base doesn’t affect the taste of the drink. It is particularly popular in green smoothies.
Coconut water isn’t water with coconut added, it is actually the liquid that comes from a coconut. It is filled with potassium and electrolytes as well as being low in calories, fat and sugar. It is a popular choice with the energetic people who want to give themselves a boost at the start of the day.
Juice is a point of debate for many people when it comes to smoothies. There are loads of juices about that can add to the flavour of the smoothie but many have added sugar in them. Freshly squeezing the juice can ease this problem somewhat and juices are filled with the same kinds of minerals and vitamins that the fruit itself is so there is plenty of health benefits involved. Just keep an eye on that sugar count when you make your decisions.
Green tea in a smoothie isn’t something I’ve tried myself, I am only just getting the hang of it as a drink in its own right. There are a lot of health benefits to green tea including lots of those helpful anti-oxidants. It also contains caffeine for a morning wake up. It is often paired with other green ingredients for a powerful green smoothie.