Ok, not really. We won’t be sitting on a stool under an almond for this one.
The popularity of milk substitutes has been on the rise in the last ten years. It all started with soy milk, then rice; now almond and coconut blends are all the rage. So what’s the deal? People are choosing milk substitutes for all sort of reasons: allergies, lactose intolerance, nutrients, diabetes, because it’s trendy? This week I’ll discuss milk vs. the milk substitutes we have available these days; the pros, cons, and the nutrition facts. For now, let’s start with a method and recipe for almond milk.
I’m sure you’ve seen almond milk creeping up in popularity in your dairy section. Move over soy milk, almond milk and it’s blended cousin coconut almond milk are taking center stage. There are lots of options that you can choose when purchasing your almond milk at the store — unsweetened, sweetened, vanilla, chocolate, heck, there’s even iced coffee made with almond milk. Unfortunately, with all of these choices, you get more than just almond milk. Let’s take the label from Almond Breeze’s Unsweetened Almond Milk.
Naturally, almond milk does not have as much calcium as a glass of milk. Let’s debunk that now. Almonds do contain calcium on their own, but almond milk producers often add calcium carbonate to boost the calcium content to the 45% you see on the label. Calcium carbonate is often found in multivitamins as well, so, think of it as crushing up one of those pills and stirring it into your milk. Potassium citrate is typically used as a buffer or neutralizing agent. Carrageenan is used as a thickener and emulsifier. Almond milk naturally wants to separate, so this is used to keep the milk uniform. Unfortunately, carrageenan, which technically is natural (derived from seaweed), has been known to cause inflammation in the gut. Sunflower lecithin works in much of the same way, and though not dangerous, is just another additive. And then we come to my favorite catch-all term . . . “natural flavor”. Listen, pretty much anything can be called natural. I just don’t like that such a vague term can be blanketed over so many substances and then just thrown on a label. The remaining ingredients are much like the calcium carbonate — all chemicals added to boost the nutritional content of the almond milk.
So, with all that to say, I can tell you now you’re not going to get the nutritional content you see on the label above from your homemade almond milk. Chances are, however, that you’ll get it somewhere else, whether that be your daily multi-vitamin, or the healthy choices you make throughout the day. Let’s talk about all the healthy things that almonds have to offer this week, ok?
In the meantime, let’s get to how to make your own almond milk at home.
You’ll need to get yourself some almonds for obvious reasons. I’d recommend getting just raw almonds. Salted ones probably aren’t the best choice (besides, we’re going to soak these bad boys), and I’m sure roasted almonds would give you a delicious, but different flavor. Try that out if you’d like! I’m just using regular ol’ almonds.
Then, here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to soak them. Again, we’ll need to discuss the importance of soaking nuts and grains at another time. The short story is that soaking our almonds is going to allow the almonds to become nice a soft. They’ll soak up a good amount of water (Two-thirds of their weight’s worth!) and the water will help deactivate many of the enzymes that actually inhibit proper digestion. Just soak your nuts, k? Yup, this post is about to sound all kinds of dirty.
All you’ll want to do is cover your almonds with a good layer of water; make sure the nuts are completely covered. Now, you can cover it, or not. I’d recommend not. You’ll want to do the soak for at least 8 hours (overnight), but I’ve done it for up to 2 days. If your kitchen is warm, you may want a shorter time. The nuts will start to ferment if soaked too long or in too warm a place, so keep your eye and nose on them. Fermented almonds are still fine to make into almond milk, but the flavor may not be desirable. I found a little salt solves all the world’s problems in these instances.
It’s crazy how much water the almonds will soak up. Check it out. Same amount of almonds, before and after soaking:
Now that we have our soaked nuts, we can make almond milk! Now, you do not need a Vitamix for this to work. I promise. You could even use a food processor if you don’t have a blender of any kind. The Vitamix is just helpful to get as much of the almond-y goodness extracted from the nuts.
Now all that has to be done is to combine fresh water and almonds together in the blender, and let mix for a couple of minutes until you can no longer see chunks whirring by. Check out the video below to see how its done:
Once you’ve got your blended almond milk, you’ll want to strain out the almond particles leftover. This is mostly ash, insoluble fiber, and whatever meat of the almonds that didn’t completely liquefy. In order to strain into a smooth milk, you’ll need something very fine to catch all of the almond meal. I use cheesecloth folded over a couple of times, but you could also use a kitchen towel if you’re in a pinch, or, they even make these things called nut milk bags. Oh yes, I know how bad it sounds. These are great if you make a lot of milk or cold brew coffee.
Regardless of your straining choice, once you’ve poured your milk over your straining device and container of choice, you’ll need to start squeezing. Because the almond meal is so fine, this will require some effort. I recommend twisting the cloth to force the liquid out. Twist. Squeeze. Breathe. Repeat. Get as much out as you can. I recommend even sectioning small balls off of the fabric to get a better handle on the squeezing. Oh yes.
Once you’ve given up, you will have some almond meal left inside. You can discard this, or, you can throw it in a dehydrator or on a cookie sheet in a low-heat oven and remove the remaining moisture. This almond meal is great in smoothies for an extra fiber boost or as a crunchy granola topping.
Now that you have just your milk, you’ll want to taste it. I find that it needs just a pinch of salt to round out the flavor. On its own, the milk can have a bit of a raw or green taste to it and I find that the salt just mellows it out. Add a pinch at a time, stir, and taste so that you get the perfect amount in for your liking.
You then can store your milk in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. At about the 10 day mark, mine had definitely gone sour, which I could smell and taste. Since your homemade almond milk will not have any of the thickeners or emulsifiers like the its store-bought counterpart, make sure you shake your container before use.
Feel free to play around with the recipe. Add a vanilla bean or some vanilla extract for vanilla almond milk. A few dried dates sweeten up the almond milk nicely if that’s more your style. Or, how about a couple of dried dates and some cocoa powder? Next on my list is to add some unsweetened flaked coconut to the almonds for a coconut almond blend!
- 1 cup raw almonds (soaked overnight)
- 3-4 cups of water (I like 3 1/2. The less water you use, the creamier and thicker the milk)
- Pinch of salt to taste
- Measure out the almonds and cover with water in a container. Soak the almonds overnight, up to 2 days.
- Drain off the water and rinse the nuts. Pour 3-4 cups of water into a blender or food processor and add the almonds.
- Start your blender on low and work up to high, blending until no chunks are visible, 1-2 minutes or longer.
- Strain your milk into a container using cheesecloth, a kitchen towel, or a nut milk bag. Squeeze as much of the liquid out as you can.
- Taste your almond milk. If salt is desired, add a pinch at a time, stirring and tasting after each addition.
- Refrigerate your milk for 7-10 days. Shake before using.