When we discovered that our daughter had a dairy intolerance, we had to find alternatives to milk. I had occasionally bought almond milk, but after getting too familiar with the list of ingredients I was not convinced that this was something I should be putting in my child’s body, let alone my own. For one, commercial almond milk is highly processed. Have you ever tried to pronounce the ingredients listed on a carton of almond milk? It took me months to properly say carrageenan let alone lecithin, or gellan gum.
I often wondered what these added ingredients are meant to achieve. Carrageenan is a common food additive extracted from red seaweed, and is used as a binder, emulsifying agent or thickening agent in food products, including almond milk. According to a March 2013 report on carrageenan by the Cornucopia Institute,
Carrageenan can also serve as a stabilizer for beverages that separate, and must be stirred or shaken before use to redistribute the particles. Addition of carrageenan allows beverages like chocolate milk or nutritional shakes to be consumed without first shaking or stirring.
I didn’t quite appreciate this until I made my own almond milk (more on this below). I wonder how often food additives are used to preserve the appearance of a product so that we, consumers, are not turned away from picking it up in the grocery aisle. I’ve never been a big fan of carrageenan so purchased almond milk that didn’t contain this additive. However, I’m also not entirely convinced that the “alternatives” are any better.
I recently wrote an email to Silk® asking them what the ingredients in their almond milk are meant to do, namely the “Locust Bean Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum” that appear on the ingredient list of their Silk Pure Almond® Original. I received the following response from the Silk® Consumer Affairs Department:
Silk® uses emulsifying agents such as Sunflower Lecithin, Locust Bean Gum & Gellan Gum in our foods to keep them at the proper consistency and texture. These ingredients help create the texture and mouth feel that consumers expect from our products. Stabilizers and/or thickeners are primarily used to achieve the expected texture in a product and the type of stabilizer and thickener used varies by product, but the ingredient will be listed on the ingredient panel. These ingredients help maintain the product’s quality throughout its shelf-life, which we feel is important to families. I hope this information was helpful. Have a wonderful day.
The information was helpful. If I want to feed my family healthy food, I need to keep it simple. The only way to truly do so was if I made the almond milk myself. I had decided to start making my own almond milk sometime last year and even went out and bought cheese cloth (that’s what many online recipes called for). And that’s probably why it took me a year to make my first glass of almond milk, because it seemed like such a complicated endeavour.
Then I came across a simple almond milk online tutorial by Danielle Walker. I bought her book Against all Grain in which she provides this short recipe:
1 cup raw almonds
8 cups filtered water, divided (I use tap water)
¼ tsp sea salt, divided
1 small date (optional)
I followed Danielle’s recipe and soaked the almonds overnight in 4 cups of water and 1/8 tsp of the sea salt. In the morning I drained the almonds, rinsed them very well, and transfered them to the blender, along with the remaining water, salt and date, blended it into a fine liquid and voila: real, unprocessed almond milk. I stored my milk in mason jars for a few days. They are perfect for making smoothies, adding to my morning granola, and feeding to my toddler.
A few interesting observations:
- After a day or even a few hours, the almond milk begins to separate, which made me understand the role that carrageenan and other binders play
- The texture of homemade almond milk is not thick like commercial almond milk, again, probably because it does not contain any of the above additives
- It does help to use a cheese cloth to extract the remaining almond meal. I use a fine sieve that also does the trick
- Homemade almond milk does only last a few days
- Homemade almond milk tastes like real almond milk because it contains only a few ingredients, mainly almonds and water.
I don’t need complicated ingredients, especially when it takes under a few minutes (except of course for the soaking) to make my own almond milk. It’s worth it and it tastes great!