The rise of the plant-based milk isn’t too surprising.
As we age, many of us do, in fact, lose our ability to produce lactase, the enzyme needed for digestion of lactose, or the milk sugar found in cow’s milk. The effects of the modern dairy industry on milk’s nutritive value (see, Milk, For All its Worth), as well as the criminalization of raw milk (of milk! for pete’s sake!) and its consequent unavailability has lead many of us, even those of the lactase-resistant ilk (like our Scandinavian mjölk-loving friends), to forgo the stuff.
And so, for the sake of upholding our dietary traditions–the cream-colored coffee, the bowl of cereal, the dunked cookie–we’ve turned toward plant-based milks: the soybean, the coconut, the oat and, most attentively as of late, the almond.
With soya-paranoia becoming ever more pervasive in many health-conscious communities, and with airy descriptors like silk, breeze, dream, almond milk has found its way at the top.
It’s become so ubiquitous as to have caused some backlash. Yes, you read that right, almond-milk backlash.
In an article titled, “Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters”, the author claims that this substance being marketed as “milk” is nothing more than “a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds”. He makes an excellent case against store-bought almond-milk as an “abuse of a great foodstuff”, comparing the nutritive value of an ounce of whole almonds against a 48-ounce jug of their milk (spoiler alert: the whole almonds win).
The author assumes that almond-milk, like Crisco or Earth Balance, is a product exclusive to its manufacturers. Processed almond-milk, fortified with synthetic vitamins and stabilized with carageenan–a seaweed derivative that has raised a few digestive-health red flags, might be deserving of such a backlash.
However, home-made almond-milk, and other nut-milks for that matter, are so far from being an “abuse” of the almond, or the macadamia, or the hazelnut as to be a downright love-letter to those foods. For, not only do they render a jug of dreamy, silky, dare I say breezy nut-milk, they also provide nut-plup for nut-flour (read: almond pancakes, sunflower-seed flat-bread, hazelnut sablés, and on and on).
Many assume that almond-milk must be a modern invention. Au contraire, mon frères! In fact, it was used in Medieval Europe as both a luxury ingredient and a dairy substitute for fasting days. (McGee, 505). When soaked nuts are ground, they release a liquid whose profile–of oil droplets, proteins, sugars and salts–is quite similar to cow’s milk.
The ubiquitous nature of almond-milk is linked to the fact that almonds happen to be the world’s largest tree-nut crop, however they’re not the only oil-rich nut appropriate for nut-milk making. This past year, while living in Vancouver, BC, I milked the local-to-BC-climes hazelnut for all her worth. In Oakland, CA, where everything seems to be in season all-at-once, all-the-time, I made almond-milk, but also walnut-milk, sesame-seed-milk, sunflower/pumpkin-seed milk.
The method to nut-milk making is simple. I’ve used hazelnuts in my version, but one can use any nut they desire. If you like your milk creamier, use less water. If you’d like your nuts to go a longer way, use more. When I introduced Lu to nut-milk, he made his with water that had been infused with rose petals. Sacre bleu!
I use cardamom in my version, but have experimented with lavender, black pepper (for chai), turmeric, cinnamon, and star anise. It’s nice to infuse your water with these herbs and spices, then strain them out before making your milk, however, if you’re using powdered versions, or if you just want a stronger flavor, you can add ’em right in.
- 1 cup hazelnuts
- 3/5 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
- pinch sea salt
- Soak hazelnuts in water overnight.
- Rinse and drain.
- Add hazelnuts to blender with water and cardamom seeds and sea-salt.
- Blend until hazelnuts have been as pulverized as possible.
- Line jug with cheesecloth or nut-milk-bag. Strain and squeeze to separate all the milk from the pulp. Pour milk into a sealable jar. Store in the fridge.
- Place nut-pulp on baking sheet and bake at lowest oven temperature until dry (it takes me 3 hours at 175 degrees F ). Blend until pulverized into a fine flour. Store in a sealed container in the fridge.
Nut-milk will stay fresh for 4 days in the fridge.
Philpott, Tom. “Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters”. Mother Jones.16 July, 2014. Web. 20 August, 2014. http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/07/lay-off-almond-milk-ignorant-hipsters
McGee, Harold, 1984, 2004. On Food and Cooking. New York, Scribner.