Almond milk, the ever-popular soy-free, dairy-free, vegan-friendly milk substitute now found everywhere from hip restaurants to Starbucks coffee shops, is ruining the world.
It's not almond milk's sometimes-chalky taste that's worrisome, but its impact on the environment as well as its misleading nutritional profile. Dairy milk farmers are concerned by the popularity of the milky product — almond milk sales have increased by 250% in the last five years — even though it's allegedly typically only 2% almond. "You can't get milk from an almond," Chris Galen, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, told the Idaho Statesman. "You have to add a lot of other ingredients to make it look like milk."
When you consider all of the consequences, the almond milk craze is really kind of ... nuts.
To make almond milk, almonds are soaked, ground into pulp and then strained out of the actual liquid almond milk, which results in excessive waste of spent almond pulp that no one really wants to eat.
When making almond milk at home, you could use the ground-up almonds in baked goods, but this is not necessarily recommended. "If anyone tries to tell you [almond pulp] is nutrient-rich or has great flavor, they're lying," Jessica Koslow, chef-owner of popular LA cafe Sqirl told Bon Appétit in February. "I don't want to say it's like sawdust, but all the oils and flavor have been pulled." Instead, Koslow shares almond pulp from her house-made almond milk with employees to make homemade body scrub, but you know the corporate food giants are most likely not adding natural exfoliants to homemade bath products to avoid creating waste.
According to the Almond Board of California, "an agricultural promotion group made up of almond growers and handlers who work together to educate consumers and to research, innovate and promote California almonds," California produces virtually 100% of the almonds grown in the United States. And when you think California, you should probably think drought. Water conservation is essential during a drought, but growing almonds and producing almond milk isn't exactly helping the dry California circumstances.
As Mother Jones reported in February 2014, it takes about 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond. That's at least 25.3 gallons of water to produce a serving of almonds! Homemade almond milk calls for a 1:3 ratio of almonds to water in the recipe, but the actual amount of almonds used in factory-made almond milk is oddly mysterious. A 2015 article from the same publication reported that almond milk is more chalky water with some almond product in it.
And just because you're not in California, it doesn't mean you're not feeling the effects of the drought. When California farmland isn't properly irrigated, fruits and vegetables can't grow as plentifully and therefore prices rise on California-grown produce. If you're going to keep chugging almond milk by the gallon, you may as well say goodbye to guac.
Doesn't do a body much good
Beyond the dire environmental impact, almond milk's nutritional facts may put you off the nut water for a while. A typical serving of unsweetened almond milk has about 40 calories, 30 of which are from fat, 180 milligrams of sodium, 1 gram of protein and 20% of your daily recommended calcium intake. Whereas a serving of 1% milk has 118 calories, 25 of which are from fat, 143 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of protein and 35% of your daily calcium.
Nutritionally speaking, cow's milk has much more to offer. Almond milk often comes sweetened with cane sugar and artificial flavorings, which may not up the calorie count, but can possibly result in a metabolism crash, spiking your glucose levels and inducing more sugar cravings after consuming sweetened almond milk.
While almond milk relies on almonds, the ratio of almond to actual milk product is miniscule. A 2015 lawsuit alleged that almond milk producer Almond Breeze's product contained just 2% of the ingredient, FoodNavigator-USA reported.
So what are consumers really drinking? Water, sugar, sunflower lecithin and carrageenan, Mother Jones reported, according to the lawsuit. (The bright side? This could mean companies are using fewer almonds than we think, causing less damage to the environment.) At that rate, if you're a nut milk devotee you're much better off making your own almond milk — rather than paying for a product that's mostly water and depleted of almond nutrients.