No Moo = Glue

Reader Kim, writes:

I have a couple lactose-intolerant folks in my house, and we sometimes bake with rice milk instead of cow’s milk. I’ve noticed a stark difference in the leavening and texture of pancakes and popovers when I use regular milk. With regular (cow’s) milk, the pancakes and popovers are fluffier and rise higher. With rice milk, they don’t rise as much, and have a gummier, gooey texture. Is it the magic of milk solids? The protein content? The fat? The type of sugars?

Hey Kim! The answer is starch. Rice milk is basically a suspension of rice endosperm particles in water. Each of those particles is made up of bunches of individual starch molecules: amylose and (especially in the case of rice) amylopectin. Cool or cold, the rice suspension flows easily. Heat it, however, and some different things start to happen. The little bunches of endosperm start to break apart into their component starches, and as those bushy little amylopectin molecules disperse they begin to restrict the flow of the liquid around them. The liquid gets thick and sticky.

You can see this behavior at work when you overcook rice or make risotto. It’s that starchy goo that’s in your pancakes. On the surface one might be tempted to think that even though the starch is gummy, it might help the pancakes rise, but that isn’t the case. Having no gluten, the rice starch can’t contribute to the pancake’s structure. Rather it only gets in between the gluten molecules and they try to link up with each other, preventing the formation of a gluten network and undermining the rise. So that’s what’s going on, Kim. Hope this helped!

11 thoughts on “No Moo = Glue”

  1. Huh. Cool explanation.

    While you’re on the topic, I’ve tested soy milk against lactose-free milk in your white cake recipe. The soy made the cake noticeably drier.Still tasty, but drier. Do you know why? Neither milks were reduced fat.

    For what it’s worth, my ordering of lactose-free milks for baking are: lactose-free milk, coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk, then oat milk. I’ll swap it around depending on what I have and if I’m baking for someone who doesn’t like coconut. Coconut milk is best if you need to replace cream in the recipe, assuming the cream isn’t supposed to be whipped.

  2. Hey Joe! Would using coconut milk produce the same results as the rice milk? I use a coconut milk product (the stuff in the carton meant for drinking, not the canned kind) and my pancakes seem good, but I may just be oblivious because I have “adapted” to the texture. Almond milk might also be a viable alternative but for some silly reason manufacturers add a ton of goopy thickeners for texture. Bleh! Do they have the same starch/gluten issue?

    1. Actually, Anna, that’s a great substitute that doesn’t have the starch-thickening problem. Amylopectin is one of the great thickeners of the cooking world, and unfortunately rice has a whole lot of it. So-called “glutinous” rice actually has no “gluten” but is all amylopectin. Which is why it’s so gooey.

      Thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

  3. Helpful info but there must be something going on with the fat in milk as well.

    When I want a rustic bread to be a little more “civilized” and softer I add more fat to the dough or butter the crust after it comes from the oven (depending on the exact result I want) and I get a more refined characteristic.

    I know that’s a different thing than the Kim was discussing but I think it’s also an effect of cow’s milk of one sort or another.

    1. Hey Rainey!

      You’re right…at least where the rising is concerned. Fat does the same thing to those gluten networks…it compromises them. Which is why breads made with milk instead off water are more tender. Of course it’s a matter of degree…a little fat creates tenderness, a lot creates density. Thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

  4. I find that if I use coconut milk, not the canned type, the type sold in containers made by Silk or Blue Diamond, that I do not have this problem.

    1. Yep, that stands to reason. No starch there. And as long as you’re not using “cream of coconut” which can be quite dense (and is occasionally sweetened) you won’t have any texture problems. Thanks, Linda!

  5. Is it possible that the pH of the rice milk isn’t the same as milk therefore changing it’s leavening ability?

    1. Good point, Tom. I think it’s definitely possible, depending on what the leavening agent is. Usually you only find baking soda in buttermilk pancake recipes since milk doesn’t have enough acid to create a strong soda reaction. My guess is that these pancakes are leavened with baking powder…unless Kim didn’t tell me something!

      Thanks for the spot-on email!

      – Joe

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