For a variety of reasons, including personal health, environmental impact, and food sensitivities, more and more people are choosing to drink non-dairy milk alternatives. Though they may be labeled “all natural” and “organic,” a quick skim of the list of ingredients on any milk substitute you can buy in the store shows that these are actually processed foods. A good rule of thumb when reading ingredients is to ask whether your grandmother or great-grandmother would recognize everything listed as food. In the case of milk substitutes, she would probably have one eyebrow suspiciously raised, and with good reason. There are several ingredients frequently found in milk alternatives that we should be wary of. The #1 culprit, which appears in almost every non-dairy milk (and many other processed foods) is carrageenan, a thickening and emulsifying agent. Carrageenan is derived from seaweed – sounds harmless enough, right? Unfortunately, it’s not. Carrageenan has been found to be so effective at causing inflammation that when testing new anti-inflammatory drugs, scientists give carrageenan to lab animals to induce inflammation. The World Health Organization classifies one type of carrageenan as a possible human carcinogen. So why is it in there? Companies think we expect products to have a certain texture and consistency, and won’t want, for example, to drink a glass of almond milk that separates out into unseemly layers. Other additives to look out for are any kind of gum (xanthan, gellan, locust bean, etc. – all highly processed), lecithin, vegetable oils, and vitamin D2 (a synthetic form of Vitamin D that may actually interfere with our body’s ability to absorb Vitamin D3, the natural kind we get from sun exposure).
So, now that I’ve ruined your favorite milk substitute, what healthy option do you have left to splash in your chai or enjoy at breakfast? Channel your grandmother or great-grandmother and make it at home! I’m going to level with you. For years, I’ve heard how “easy” it is to make your own nut milks at home. But it just never sounded quite as easy as grabbing a carton off the shelf in the grocery store. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with some major digestive issues and started to scrutinize the ingredients of store bought foods more closely, that I finally decided to make it myself. It was love at first sip – deliciously creamy and fresh-tasting, and – they were right – very easy to do! For this recipe I’m using almonds, but feel free to experiment with the type of nut you use, or try a blend.
Homemade Almond Milk
1 cup raw almonds
3.5 cups filtered water
2-4 pitted Medjool dates
1 whole vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
cheesecloth or nut bag
optional: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg to taste
1. SOAK. Soak the almonds in water overnight (8-12 hours) in glass or porcelain (no plastic). Soaking nuts makes them easier to digest so your body is better able to absorb their nutrients. After they’ve soaked, pour out the water and give the nuts a rinse (the longer they soak, the cloudier the water gets and the more slimy the nuts start to feel).
2. COMBINE AND BLEND. Put the rinsed nuts in a blender, add 3-4 cups of water (depending on how thick or thin you want it), dates, and chopped vanilla bean if you are using one. Dates are surprisingly sweet and 2 large ones may be enough to sweeten the whole batch of milk, or drop in another 1 or 2 for a sweeter milk. Fire up the blender and watch as your unassuming ingredients become…milk! After about a minute or two on high, the milk will be nice and frothy and now it’s time to strain it out.
3. STRAIN. This is where it can start to get messy, so just be patient and know it may take a few tries before you figure out your method. A nut bag, with its great name, is a mesh bag designed explicitly for this purpose, so I’m sure it’s the easiest and most efficient way to strain your milk, but cheesecloth does the job too. If you have a metal sieve, you can line it with a layer of cheesecloth and put it over a bowl to strain. If you don’t have a sieve, take your cheesecloth and fold it in half so you have a double layer, then cover the mouth of a pint jar, leaving enough slack so the cheesecloth hangs into the jar like a reverse dome. Secure the top with a rubber band around the rim of the jar to hold the cheesecloth in place, and slowly start to pour the milk in. Start very slowly, as the milk will take some time to drip through. It will take a few rounds of pouring and waiting, so I usually putz around my house or do a few sun salutations, checking back every few minutes to scoop out the ground almond that starts to collect in the cheesecloth and put it off to the side. Once you’ve strained it all, give your cheesecloth a squeeze to get out all of the almond milk goodness.
4. SPICE AND BLEND. Rinse out the blender, pour your strained milk back in and add your pinch of salt and personal favorite spice blend – I love a chai-inspired flavor with dashes of ground cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Or try cocoa powder or a few berries for a chocolate or berry milk. Blend for a few seconds just to mix the flavors, and voila! Your almond milk is ready to be chilled and enjoyed, if you can wait that long.
Since our homemade milk has no preservatives or stabilizers, it won’t last as long as the store-bought kind, and will need a vigorous shake before you pour it. The ground almond that’s left over – almond pulp – can then be used in other recipes, like oatmeal, hummus, granola, smoothies, cookie or muffin batter, etc.; or you can dehydrate it, blend it, and make almond meal. This can also be frozen to use later.
About the Author: Catherine started practicing yoga as a teenager and hasn’t looked back since that first time she floated out of a yoga class. Discovering yoga at an early age has given her a deep and intuitive understanding of the physical practice and a holistic approach to it as a way of life. A New Orleans native. You can find more words from Catherine here on our blog. Look for her return to our schedule in the near future.