The other day I ran across an old article on salon.com (from back in July) that basically trashed almond milk as a poor nutritional and financial value, labeling the beverage as “kind of a scam.” While I don’t doubt the veracity of the nutritional breakdown cited by the article, I question the validity of its conclusions. And my cynical side makes me wonder whether the powerful dairy industry had anything to do with this article.
Using a brand of almond milk called Califia as its example, the Salon article lists an eight ounce (one cup) serving as containing 1 gram of protein, one gram of fiber and five grams of fat. The article compares this to almonds themselves, only one ounce of which provide six grams of protein, three grams of fiber and 12 grams of fat. Well, if one ounce of almonds contains six grams of protein but eight ounces of almond milk contain only one gram of protein, hmmm… Indeed, the article goes on to conclude that a carton of almond milk is essentially “a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds.” This would seem to be a poor deal indeed.
The superior nutritional value of almonds notwithstanding, the problem is that you cannot lighten your coffee very effectively with a handful of nuts.
The Salon article admits to the increasing popularity of almond milk as an alternative to dairy milk (particularly among those who are lactose intolerant) and soy milk (which has gotten a bad rap due to allegations of health issues associated with the hormones in soy). I didn’t notice any mention of vegans, possibly for the reason that the purists among us tend to stay away from any almond milk that isn’t made at home. The reason is that most brands of almond milk that you find in the store are processed on commercial equipment that is also used for dairy products. For those of us who are also kosher: This is why the O-U hekhsher on almond milk, a pareve product, is nearly always followed by the infamous “D” (same thing with many brands of “nondairy” creamer).
I’d like to refute the Salon article’s conclusions as somewhat misleading. As with so many things, context is key.
I am not familiar with the Califia brand cited by the article, but it would be a mistake to assume that most commercially available brands of almond milk follow identical nutritional breakdowns. For example, the unsweetened almond milk that we typically purchase at Wal-Mart (sold under its Great Value brand name) presents a slightly different picture on the nutritional panel of its label. A one cup (8 oz.) serving contains the same one gram of protein as Califia and even less than a gram of fiber. Notably, however, Wally World’s almond milk contains only 2½ grams of fat per serving, half the fat content cited by Salon.
I admire those who strain their own almond milk, thus skipping additives such as carrageenan (which, although made from seaweed, is now thought to cause all manner of gastrointestinal problems). But for those of us who are helpless in the kitchen (or who just aren’t interested), I submit to you that almond milk can be a useful product, particularly when used in moderation.
During a typical trip to Wal-Mart, we are usually able to purchase a carton of unsweetened almond milk that is still about six weeks away from its expiration date. This is great, because that’s about how long it takes me to use it up. In fact, I often use the last bit even a week or two beyond the expiration date and it’s still fine.
As you may surmise, I do not glug down almond milk by the glassful. I use it quite sparingly. It tops off my coffee, a beverage I rarely indulge in more than a couple of times per month. I am primarily a tea drinker, although I tend to garnish a steaming mug of tea with lemon, not milk. I also enjoy the fruit-flavored herbal teas that are great just as they are. I do, however, add almond milk when I drink Earl Grey. To me, there’s no other way to enjoy that royal English beverage.
I also use almond milk in my oatmeal or shredded wheat, each of which I eat maybe once a month or so. About the only other use I make of almond milk is when my mother-in-law, a wonderful cook, makes me something special every few months (such as vegan versions of mashed potatoes or chocolate pudding). Oh, my, I do have a birthday coming up, now don’t I?
All in all, I certainly see Salon’s point of view that almond milk might not be such a great alternative as a beverage of choice, particularly if you have kids in the family downing it by the glassful, day after day. However, as a top-off for coffee or tea, or in cereal or used to cook an occasional recipe, I find almond milk to be nothing less than a vegan’s friend.