What ingredients go into almond milk? Although it's a plant-based product, there is plenty of debate about almond milk production's environmental effects, leading some vegans to dub this milk alternative very "un-vegan."
As more and more people remove dairy from their diets and search for their favorite alternatives, almond milk is becoming America's favorite plant-based milk.
Sales have skyrocketed to $1 billion annually as of 2018, up from sales of just $646 million in 2014. The next closest plant-based milk is soy, which has seen sales decrease to $245 million annually, likely a result of better-tasting substitutes for milk hitting the market.
Almond milk is a plant-based, vegan-friendly food by nature. The basic recipe contains only two ingredients that almond milk is made from: almonds and water. Almonds, the most nutritious nuts, also make a milk alternative that's good for your health.
One significant almond milk health benefit is that it's calcium-fortified, so you won't lose out on this crucial mineral by making the switch away from dairy.
Although almond milk is a vegan food, the almond milk environmental impact during production has some skeptics avoiding this non-dairy milk. Read more below about almond milk benefits and whether almond milk is bad for the environment or suitable for a vegan diet.
Plus, we've included a super simple recipe for homemade almond milk that you can whip up in just a few minutes!
What is Almond Milk?
Almond milk is a blend of almonds, water, and sometimes other simple add-ins, such as sweetener, salt, and some emulsifiers in commercially made brands. After the manufacturer blends the almonds into the water, the almond pulp is filtered out of the liquid to create almond milk.
Almond milk is less thick than cow's milk and tastes quite a bit lighter as well. The almonds give this plant-based milk a slightly nutty, mildly sweet flavor.
Is almond milk healthy?
Naturally, almond milk is a little lower in nutrients than traditional cow's milk. Still, most store-bought brands are enriched with a load of essential vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin D. Manufacturers usually up almond milk protein levels, which is great for a vegan diet that can sometimes be naturally lower in protein.
Almond milk is naturally higher in some nutrients too, like vitamin E. It's an excellent alternative for anyone trying to cut down on their calorie intake, as 1 cup of commercially-made stuff contains half the calories as 1 cup of skim milk.
But beware of sweetened almond milk, which can contain high sugar levels. Unsweetened almond milk has very few carbs and relatively higher amounts of fat and protein, which means it won't mess with your blood sugar levels, either.
The fat content in almond milk is 90% unsaturated, which has a host of health benefits for heart protection and improved cholesterol levels.
Can Vegans Drink Almond Milk?
Is almond milk dairy-free?
Yes. Many vegans use almond milk as their dairy alternative of choice, and it contains no animal meat or by-products.
But one of the pros and cons of being a vegetarian or vegan is that you're deliberately helping the environment and making some complicated choices along the way.
The definition of veganism is a philosophy and way of living that seeks to exclude animal exploitation. It adopts an environmentally-sustainable attitude as a way of life,as much as practicable and possible.
The practicable and possible part is where the grey area lies, as farmed almonds' environmental impact is sometimes seen as non-vegan.
Almond Milk and the Environment
Almond milk isn't the most sustainable milk for a few different reasons. Its critics claim that almond milk is bad for the environment, and in many ways, almond milk does have quite an impact.
First, the good news, almond crops require less farmland than other plant-based milk crops.
But 80% of the world's almonds are grown in dry, arid Central Valley in California, and almonds require a massive amount of water to grow: nearly 130 pints of water to produce one glass of almond milk. They're not getting much rainfall in Central Valley, requiring the use of artificial water sources in a state that often goes into droughts.
Honey Bee Exploitation
The almond trees in America also need regular pollination from honey bees. Farmers use 70% of commercial honey bees to pollinate California's almond crops.
This disrupts the natural life of a honey bee, puts a massive amount of pressure on them, and causes up to one-third of the bees to die each year.
Many vegans choose not to eat white sugar or cane sugar, often used in the sweetened varieties of almond milk available at the grocery store.
White sugar doesn't contain animal products, but manufacturers often use animal bone char to process it. Purchase unsweetened varieties to avoid white sugar, or make a homemade recipe so you know exactly what is going into each glass of almond milk you drink.
Should I drink almond milk?
As you can see, the answer isn't all that clear-cut. Going back to the definition of veganism, someone who is following the way of life should do so as much as practical and possible.
For some, that might mean choosing other non-dairy milk alternatives instead of almond milk, if they feel that almond production is too harmful to the environment.
Others may feel that consuming almond milk is something they feel comfortable doing, and that's okay, too.
Almond milk production is still a much-improved practice over traditional dairy farming. In 2018, University of Oxford researchers discovered that producing one glass of cow's milk produces three times more greenhouse gases than any plant-based alternatives and consumes nine times more land.
No matter which milk alternative you choose, they're all significantly better for the environment than cow's milk.
Making Almond Milk at Home + An Almond Milk Recipe
Almond milk is incredibly simple to make yourself at home and offers far more options to create a richer taste and adjust protein and fat levels.
We've included 2-4 cups of filtered water in our recipe to give you room to experiment; less water will provide you with a thicker, creamier result, whereas more water will give you the watered-down version sold at most grocery stores.
We love to use low-glycemic index Medjool dates to sweeten our recipe for the added fiber, vitamin, and mineral content. If you don't like dates, you can omit them altogether or choose an alternative sweetener of your choice.
Homemade almond milk doesn't contain any preservatives, so it won't last nearly as long as store-bought varieties, approximately five days in the fridge. Make your homemade almond milk in small batches, more frequently, to ensure that it stays fresh.
- 3/4 c. raw unsalted almonds
- 2–4 c. filtered water
- 2 Medjool dates (optional), pitted
- Soak your raw almonds in water for a minimum of 6 hours, preferably overnight.
- Drain and rinse the soaked almonds. You can peel the almonds if you choose, but it's not necessary.
- Add the soaked almonds, filtered water, and Medjool dates (if using) to a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. You can adjust water depending on how thick you prefer your milk. I usually add 3-4 c.
- Strain the almond mixture using a nut milk bag, a cheesecloth, or a strainer.
- Serve and enjoy your homemade almond milk!
- Keep the leftovers in a sealed, airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Other Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives
If you're on the fence about consuming almond milk, we have you covered with several other great plant-based milk options. See how a few of our favorites stack up!
Soy-based milk is the most nutritionally-dense, plant-based alternative that contains 8g of protein per cup, far more than other milk options.
Soy milk is low-fat and doesn't contain calcium naturally, but most commercial brands have fortified their soy milk with calcium and other essential nutrients. The taste of soymilk is very light compared to other kinds of milk, and its texture is much creamier, making it an excellent milk replacement in most cooking and baking.
Like almonds, soybean production tends to take large amounts of water to grow. Many soy crops are genetically modified and treated with pesticides, so opt for organic brands as much as possible.
Rice milk has a thin, watery texture with a taste that's quite close to traditional cow's milk. It has a naturally sweeter flavor than other kinds of milk and can be too thin to use in baking and cooking, as it doesn't have the density required to substitute in the same way.
It's a great source of vitamin A, D, and calcium, but contains very little protein. Rice milk is the least likely to trigger allergies, making it an excellent choice for those who may have intolerances and food allergies.
Rice crops also require a lot of water, but as rice is hugely popular worldwide, farmers have developed sustainable practices to reduce environmental impact.
Oat milk contains a load of vitamin D and is often fortified with other vitamins and minerals too. It has a rich, nutty taste that tastes incredible in coffee, smoothies, and other dishes, but it's a little too thin for some desserts.
Oat crops are by far the most sustainable option, as they don't require much water – ⅙ of almond milk crop requirements – and produce far less carbon during production. If you're concerned about sustainability of the milk alternative you're using, oat milk is your best bet.
Coconut milk is super-rich, creamy, and loaded with healthy plant-based, saturated and unsaturated fat. It's the milk of choice for many curries, soups, or stews, even in non-vegan recipes, because it has an even thicker texture than dairy milk and some natural sweetness.
Coconut tree crops have a low environmental impact, as coconut trees help capture and remove extra carbon from their environment, which reduces greenhouse gas levels and creates a richer soil.
Final Verdict: The Best Plant-Based Milk
Whether you choose to consume almond milk or some other plant-based option, all of them can fit under the category of veganism.
By choosing any of the non-dairy milk options above, you'll be reducing your carbon footprint by three times compared to cow's milk, and cutting down on required farmland by nine times.
Almond milk is a healthy, low-fat, and low-calorie alternative, with quite a few essential vitamins and minerals, making it a solid addition to any vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous diet.
If you're on the fence about almond milk, don’t worry! You can try rice milk, oat milk, coconut milk, or soy milk instead to find the best vegan milk for your lifestyle.