After soy, almond milk is probably the most common dairy-free alternative around. In fact in the United States, it is now surprisingly more common than soy. It is also by far the most common nut milk. There are others available, like cashew and brazil nut but they simply have not taken off the same way. Without a doubt, almond milk is delicious. It is creamy and many coffee lovers agree that it tastes delicious in their morning mug. (Not sure if tea people agree on that front!) Almond milk is also great in smoothies, cereal bowls and many dairy-free baking recipes. The stuff is now a staple in juicery and healthy cafe menus everywhere. Raw vegan dairy-free dandelion latte anyone? It’s got plenty to recommend it. On top of its nutty flavour, it is high in protein, contains omega-3s, fibre, and is low in sugars, especially when compared to other non-dairy milk choices like rice milk or oat milk. Almond milk is also devoid of the many complications surrounding soy, from GMOs to phytoestrogens. Despite all these clear benefits, almond milk does have a fair few drawbacks.
First of all, if you have a nut allergy or a stone fruit allergy of any kind, almond milk is obviously out. Nut allergies are becoming increasingly common so that’s a clear negative on the almond milk pros and cons. Schools are becoming very strict about what they allow in terms of snacks and homemade lunches- many restrict anything made with common allergens such as almonds- this is a potential nuisance if you regularly use almond milk in your cooking.
Further, almond milk bought in stores tends to be extremely watered down and packed with all kinds of additives/preservatives from carrageenan to locust bean gum to calcium carbonate to lecithin to many other unpronounceable and laboratory-derived ingredients. The other major issue with store-bought almond milk is that you are mostly buying water- very little is made up of almonds, sometimes less than 2%. There are currently class action lawsuits against the largest brands (Silk and Almond Breeze) on this very point. If you love almond milk and don’t have to time to make your own, then do check out Healthy Eater’s comparison of the top commercial almond milk brands that line store shelves to help you decide which is the best brand for you.
Thirdly, it’s unfortunately not the most ecological choice in the list. Most of the world’s almonds come from the US- California state to be specific. Yes even those mounds of nuts you see in souks and bazaars across Asia and the Middle East. All from the Golden State. California is currently experiencing its worst drought in decades and no one has any definite recovery dates. Almonds do require a significant amount of water to be farmed- over 4 litres for one almond to be exact so there is lots of debate about whether almond production should be curtailed, and the water savings redirected to more important feedcrops. Making almond milk is also fairly wasteful- once you have squeezed out what you need from , the large amount of pulp leftover tends to be left unused and thrown out in the trash. Thanks to the massive changes in people’s dietary choices and a awareness about the health issues linked to industrial food consumption, there is a growing appetite for non-dairy products. Vegans, paleo adherents, FODMAPs followers- all can consume almond milk. various almond products from whole almonds, to almond meal, to almond flour to almond milk to almond butter, global almond supply is a serious concern. As such, certain green-minded folk advise against choosing almond milk- read more in Mother Jones’ controversial piece that sparked debate all over the internet. Budget-minded folk are also worried about almond milk pricing. Nuts in general are hardly cheap to begin with. If you are choosing organic, it’s even more expensive. Almonds contain a high level of oils, so they absorb pesticides easily- ideally, we would all choose organic when it comes to almonds, but pricing and supply chain don’t allow for that.
One great thing about almond milk? It’s really easy to make your own. First you want to soak raw almonds overnight- an important step as you want to remove the enzyme that when present, make digesting the almonds difficult. After soaking, rinse in clean water, and then add to a high-speed blender (think Vitamix or Blendtec) with a pinch of sea salt, a dash of raw vanilla powder or vanilla extract, filtered water (a ratio of 1: 4 cups almonds to water seems to work well) and a few pitted dates- or go with the sweetener of your choice. Process on high for a few minutes, then pour through a nut milk mesh bag. Squeeze the bag until you get every last drop out and voila, yummy almond milk. Store in the fridge in a glass bottle for 3 to 4 days (sometimes 2 days is all you have). Raw enthusiasts out there who love making raw almond milk at home, be wary: the majority of store-bought almonds is actually not raw. Remember how we explained above about California supplying most of the world’s almonds? Well California state regulations demand that almonds be pasteurized due to a minor salmonella outbreak in the early aughts. Which means a lot of the time, the almonds you are buying are technically not raw- labeling laws in the US do permit manufacturers to label pasteurized almonds as raw. Properly raw, unpasteurized almonds are notoriously difficult to source. You can find them: Spain (try the Marcona variety) and Italy (people go gaga over Sicilian almonds) supply them, though they often charge a whole lot more than the California producers and supply is far from consistent- they produce a whole lot fewer of them too.
As always in the complex world of food supply chains, there are no easy answers. Find the option that works best for your health/palette, as well as what makes most sense economically and environmentally.