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Almond milk – what’s the fuss?

Plant-based alternatives are regularly assigned the title of 'milk' by suppliers and consumers, but are government bodies correct in ruling that they now be named 'drink' rather than 'milk'?

You've probably heard of almond milk as an alternative 'milk',1 but did you know that it's now legally required to be labelled as drink rather than milk?2, 3 This is because, technically, countries like the U.S.A. have a legal definition of milk, which is defined as something that comes from a mammary gland.4  

Although the names might change, the drinks are nothing new and are only growing in popularity. From almond to soy, it is in fact expected that the global market for alternative drinks to dairy will hit $16.3 billion in 2018.5 This may pale in comparison to the estimated dairy market value of $442 billion for 2019,6 but it shouldn’t be underestimated either – this value has more than doubled since 2010.5

We’ve probably seen the alternative options on coffee shop and restaurant menus in grocery stores, and the recipe for the homemade version is just a Google search away on plenty of healthy eating blogs. But why are we drinking almond drinks and other non-dairy alternatives? Even more simply, how is it made?

Why look for alternatives?

So, first of all, you may be wondering why alternatives to milk are being sought out to begin with. Why look for an alternative to a product we already have? 

Well, the reason this trend is on the rise is that there’s much disagreement in today’s dairy industry, not just with regards to animal welfare and veganism, but in terms of the greenhouse gases emitted from cows as a byproduct of the dairy industry, with projections suggesting it will one day even overtake the oil industry.7

On the other side of the argument, alternatives aren’t perfect, with almond drinks for example taking large quantities of water to grow.8 Furthermore, farmers need to earn a living as well, and to be eco-conscious requires money, time and effort, all of which market pressures may not always allow.9

It’s a complicated business, but with such a cloud over dairy in terms of the health of the environment and the animals involved, it’s not surprising alternatives are on the rise.

How almond milk is made

It’s not exactly logical to imagine ‘milking’ an almond as you would a cow. But, the process is simple enough and if you’ve ever made it yourself, you’d likely agree.

Essentially, in its most basic form, it comes down to soaking almonds in water and grinding them in a blender, before straining out the almond ‘pulp’ via a cheesecloth and, in mass production, often pasteurising the product for safety and prolonged shelf life before packaging.10

Alternatives to the alternative

Almond drink isn’t alone in the world of non-dairy alternatives. Soy, rice, oat, coconut, even hemp, all of these plants are becoming legitimate substitutes for the cow-based original.11 And all have the very simple fundamental method of production – wash, blend, strain, pasteurise, package.

With the rise of new tech, strides are being taken to make the alternative industry more efficient and nutritious. For example, the straining process provides a flavoursome liquid, yes, but it removes some crucial proteins at the same time,12 which is bad news for a product that can sometimes be low on such nutrients to begin with.13 However, developments have been made so that, via presses, all the fibres can be trapped and removed whilst still retaining the nutritious proteins.12

Technological advancement hasn’t stopped there. The biotech company ProLupin has been extracting proteins from the seeds of the flowering plant lupine. This extract, Lupine Protein Isolate (LPI), has an incredibly high protein percentage,14 and is being used as a real dairy alternative, making not only alternatives to milk, but yoghurt also.15

And then there’s yeast-produced milk. What? I know. This is actually the milk as we know it, just created from a different source. The DNA of the yeast in question is manipulated so that once it’s fed certain nutrients, it starts producing all the key proteins found in your everyday cow’s milk, all with the same functionality and flavour.16 Sounds weird, but it’s not too dissimilar to how we make our craft beers of today.

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  1. EU court bans dairy-style names for soya and tofu. BBC News. Accessed 10th October 2018.
  2. Soy, Almond, Coconut: If it’s not from a cow, can you legally call it milk? Accessed 28th November 2018.
  3. Global plant milk market to top US $16 billion in 2018: Dairy alternative drinks are booming, says Innova Market Insights. Cision PR Newswire. Accessed 10th July 2018.
  4. Dairy market value worldwide in 2014 and 2019 (in billion U.S. dollars). Statista. Accessed 29th October 2018.
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  11. Hartke, K. (2018). A century-old dairy ditches cows for high-tech plant milk. The salt – What’s on your plate. Accessed 30th August 2018.
  12. Company – Food ingredients from regional Sweet Lupine. ProLupin. Accessed 30th August 2018.
  13. Pointing, C. (2018). German company to bring vegan milk, yogurt, and ice cream to mass market. LIVEKINDLY. Accessed 30th August 2018.
  14. Purdy, C. (2018). Watch out, cows. Yeast is gunning to be the next dairy disruptor. Quartz. Accessed 30th August 2018.
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