No Milk, No Espresso, All Science: Frothing Up a Dairy-Free Latte


latte xanthan“Screenshot from ChefSteps video on making a latte with no milk! ChefSteps

If the only thing that gets you going in the morning is your latte, put the milk carton down. One ingredient straight out of molecular gastronomy could make your lattes dairy-free forever: xanthan gum.

What in the world is xanthan gum, and how can it possibly replace the dairy in your latte? Xanthan gum is a plant-based thickening and stabilizing agent named for the bacteria, Xanthomonas campestris. It’s commonly used as an emulsifier, and creates creamy textures by forcing liquids that don’t normally mix (like oil and water) together. It’s also used frequently today in gluten-free baking, so is generally easy to find at most grocery stores.

One More Cup

And a latte? That’s simply espresso plus steamed milk. After all, latte literally means "milk" in Italian. However, steaming milk can be tricky. You have to select the right kind of milk (organic vs. conventional; whole, reduced fat, or skim; pasteurized or sterilized), and fat content also is equally important. That’s not to mention, you need the right equipment (a quality espresso machine) and optimal temperatures to get the steamed milk to create air bubbles and actually stabilize. 

What’s the science behind a latte’s creamy texture? Air bubbles suspended in the steamed milk need to suspend throughout the espresso, while heated proteins in the milk add to the mouthfeel.

Forget that! Let’s make a latte without espresso and without milk, thanks to the ChefSteps video below. 

Try It Yourself

You’ll just need standard drip coffee, xanthan gum and a blender.

By adding just a tad of xanthan gum – about 1 gram (1/8 teaspoon) per liter (about 4 1/4 cups) – to drip coffee and processing it for a few seconds in a blender, you can achieve almost the same result that’s totally dairy free. 

That’s because the xanthan gum helps thicken the coffee and suspends the air bubbles created by the blender. And you’ll be surprised by the results — you end up with a coffee that’s creamy and frothy, with a nice thick layer of foam on top. 

It’s lighter than a standard latte, but you’ll never miss that milk.

Now That’s Interesting

The Starbucks frappuccino was inspired by chilled Greek frappé coffee, a popular drink accidentally discovered in 1957 when a Nescafe employee couldn’t find hot water for his instant coffee and improvised by using a shaker filled with cold water and ice.

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