Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Homemade Almond Milk, cool and refreshing

I've been experimenting with milk lately. Cow, goat, rice, soy, and now almond. I love cream or milk in my coffee, but can't really sit down and drink a glass of cow's milk. It might have something to do with the stories my mother told me as a kid of her childhood in Holland and Israel where her mother would warm the fresh cow milk and serve it to her with the skin on the surface that forms with warmed milk. It nauseated my mother so much that she said one day she jumped out the window of her tiny house and ran towards school, only to be called back by her mother and made to drink her milk. Who knows if this really happened quite the way I remember her telling it, but none the less, I can't really stomach a glass of cow's milk. I do eat dairy, I can drink a glass of soy milk which is enriched with as much calcium as milk, and I eat lots of greens and nuts which are loaded with calcium as well. However, when my daughter was weaned at the age of two and started asking for milk from some where other than me, I started to re-examine the topic of milk. 

I am not trying to bad mouth cow's milk, I think it is beautiful stuff, especially when I know it is coming from cows who are being treated well, allowed to graze on grass and not being over milked or given growth hormones to force increased milk production.  I like to cook and bake with it, I love making ice cream, and whipped cream and yogurt, but, to be honest, the idea that humans are meant to be drinking the milk mother cows produce for their calfs has always struck me as bizarre. When you think about the fact that most people are freaked out by human breast milk, what makes the milk from a mother cow so great? I usually come around to the fact that the dairy industry did a great job convincing Americans that we need to drink milk every day, and lots of it. I mean seriously, why do you think dairy is it's own food group on the USDA food pyramid?!  I look at dairy as a protein and a fat. I mean fish doesn't have it's own category because of omega 3 oils. The argument that milk is our best source of calcium doesn't fly when you can get calcium from greens, nuts, seaweed, ground sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses and many other foods. The power of this type of advertising was made obivious to me when I was in college and lived in Brazil. I spent some time in a favela (shanty town) in Fortaleza, and I remember visiting a small "house" built of cardboard and scraps of metal, and the image of a young and very poor mother who was standing near a shelf with a can of Nestle powdered baby formula on it. The idea that even in extreme poverty people can be convinced that they need to buy a manufactured milk product to feed their children, even though their own body produces milk that is far superior was just insane to me. That image is burned into my head for life.

So, back to the topic at hand, Almond milk. As I started examining what kind of milk to give my daughter, I found pluses and minuses to each kind of milk: soy milk which my husband and son like to drink, contains a lot of estrogen, so I didn't want to overload her (or them) with that, and it is a fairly processed milk with a lot of added ingredients, but it is higher in protein than it's similar counterpart, rice milk, making it more balanced for the body. Unsweetened rice milk is not too high in sugar, it is enriched with vitamins (not naturally occuring in rice or soy) which is sort of a plus and a minus. Goat milk is easier on the body than cow milk for people with lactose intolerance, and I looked at hemp milk, but it was expensive, and had a lot of ingredients in it, so i decided not to go that route. Then there was almond milk. The store bought version has about as many ingredients as rice and soy milk, but also has flavorings and a lot of sugars. I remembered my friend Shayla telling me when she weaned her son that she was making almond milk, at the time I thought, "almonds for a young toddler, should he have nuts?", but my daughter already ate nuts and was fine with them, so I googled it and found tons of great info on home made almond milk online. I had imagined that it would take a lot of almonds to make, so it would be expensive, but that wasn't the case. A half gallon of home made almond milk is made with about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of almonds and was about $1.75 to $2.50, depending on how rich you like it. It was easy to make, and my husband and I really liked it, the kids on the other hand, well, not so much. oh well.

My basic resolution at the end of this long brain splurge on milk was VARIETY.  If we drink a variety of different milks we will get the nutrients and bonuses of each without over oading our bodies with any of the minuses. This is the answer I come up with for many questions about food. If we eat a variety of whole foods, different colors, textures, food groups etc, it will all balance out and our bodies will be happier for it. I know in some cultures people eat the same few foods every day and are very healhty and satisfied. I have experienced that living in other countries, but i do find while I am here in the USA surrounded by incredible marketing and huge grocery stores, markets and abundance, that I don't feel satisfied eating the same few things everyday.

Homemade Almond Milk
1 cup almonds
6 cups water (4-8 cups depending on your tastes)
Honey or other sweetener (optional)

Large bowl
Thin dish towel or 3 layers cheese cloth
Colander or mesh strainer
Additional water for soaking

Soak almonds in lots of water, overnight or for 24 hours. This brings the almonds back to life. If you think of them as a seed, which they are, the process of soaking them is actually getting them to start growing, so you are eating a food that is more alive than dead.
Soaked almonds in front, dry in back.
Set up your bowl with a colander or mesh strainer in it.
Cover the strainer with a thin dish towel or cheese cloth.
Place almonds in a blender with as much of the 6 cups of water as will fit. Reserve the rest.
 Blend on high speed until the nuts are very fine.
 Pour the milk into the strainer. You can scoop some of the nut solids out of the strainer and blend them with the remaining water. In my blender I fit 4 cups of water the first time and then added 2 cups more the second time. I have seen recipes with 4-8 cups of water, I felt like 6 was a good amount, but it is up to you.

Lift up the edges of the dish towel or cheese cloth and let the milk flow through the cloth.

Twist the cloth until all of the milk is removed from the nut meal.
The nut meal that remains can be eaten, or used in baking. It is great added to a cobbler topping, breads, muffins, yogurt or anything else you like. I tried to find info online about the nutritional content of the milk and the meal, but didn't come up with anything reliable. I do not doubt that it is good for you though, and it tasted good too, so why waste it?
In the end, I was left with a quart and a half (6 cups) of almond milk. I left the milk unsweetened in a jar in the fridge, but added a tiny bit of honey to my glass when I drank it. I kept it in the fridge and we drank it all within 3 days. It was an incredibly refreshing clean drink, great for a hot summer day.


  1. I'm not sure I buy the dairy industry as the source of our cow's milk mythos, given that cow's milk was a staple in the 19th century (think Laura Ingalls Wilder), and a cow has been a prize possession since fairy tale times. Might be worth investigating the history--in all your spare time!!

  2. My parents took me off all dairy (and a number of other foods) when I was 4 years old due to serious chronic asthma and allergies. Since my diet was so restricted, my mom became a wizard at cooking up amazing and fairly revolutionary alternatives to all the things I was not able to eat. This was in the late 70's so you can imagine what was readily available then! One of my favorite things was shakes she would make with frozen fruit and...her own almond milk! She would also use cashews. When I began seeing nut milk in stores a few years ago, I realized just how ahead of her time she was! If only we had packaged it!

    I also use almond meal for baking, mixing with other flours (quinoa & almond make a delicious blend) particularly in muffins....

    1. Do you have any recipes for the quinoa and almond?

  3. ok, so maybe I can't blame it all on "the Man" but it's so easy sometimes.....and, while we are at it, when exactly was fairy tale times?

  4. A few things to add:
    1 - I made a lot of nut milk when I went dairy-free for a couple of years. The biggest drawback I found was the time required to strain the meal out because the meal would clog the strainer and I'd stand there stirring and scraping... but if you make a big batch it's not so bad. Cashews, on the other hand, if you soak first, don't need to be strained - they blend in beautifully with the water. As is the case with a million ingredients kids won't eat, you can put nut milk in smoothies. Delicious! My kids also have different milks in their cereal and don't notice a difference, really.
    2 - A tip on rice milk - in Canada we have a brand call Yu which makes organic rice milk from brown basmati rice, naturally sweet, and it's also a lot less chalky than many others I've tried. If you can get it where you live, I highly recommend.
    3 - My naturopath suggested mixing 2 parts rice milk with 1 part coconut milk (and a splash of flax seed oil for Omega 3) for the kids to help them through the transition to less breast milk when they started daycare. It's really yummy and gives them some healthy saturated fat. My 3-year-old loved it from 12 months through 2 years when we found he didn't any longer prefer it to plain rice milk for snacking at daycare (instead of cow milk). Our 15-month-old now loves it, too.
    4 - Great suggestions for using the nut meal!

  5. I made homemade almond milk for my son, Tyler (who turns 18 next Friday). He refused breast milk when he was only a few weeks old because my mom gave him formula with rice cereal mixed in a bottle with an extra large hole poked in the nipple while I was sick and napping. "HE WAS HUNGRY!"

    It was a lot of work, but he digested that so much better than soy or rice. I bought some almond milk at the co-op recently and was amazed at how many ingredients it had, and was just way too sweet for me.

  6. Hi Tagan -

    Thank you for this great article! I have a 13 month old who cannot have dairy. I'm currently working on weaning her to homemade almond milk. She eats a wide variety of foods except for beef, dairy, egg white and peanut (food allergies are so hard!) - I found peanut free almonds - blue diamond brand surprisingly! There are cross contaminates in other brands. Anyway, how old was your daughter or your friend's child when she weaned to almond?

  7. Oh! Just noticing your daughter was 2. Anyway, I'm hoping as I increase the amount she won't have digestive issues as she has had so many in the past:( I agree with your comment on rotating milks to ensure a variety of nutrients!

  8. HI AJ,
    So glad that this was helpful to you. A friend of mine started making this for her son when he was 1 year old. As you know nuts can be an allergen, so you want to be careful. But use your judegment about safety. You might want to also read up on what nutrients she will be missing when you stop giving her breastmilk, and see how you can supplement with other foods. I think that iron is a mojor one. So you can look at how much spinach or other greens could give her the iron. I used to sautee spinach with garlic and then add them to cooked lentils, or mix them into scrambled eggs or other things. I hope she doesn't have a reaction to the almond milk. best of luck!

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