There is absolutely nothing like the flavor of fresh, homemade almond milk.
For many years I've been drinking almond milk as a complete replacement for cow's milk, and I've loved it. I tried most of the brands in the store and settled on my favorite, one that was creamy and flavorful but without added sweetness. I still didn't like that it had added ingredients beyond just almonds, and I thought often about making my own almond milk.
The thing was, I assumed it was much more expensive to make homemade almond milk than to just buy the vacuum sealed packs for about $2 each at the store. Plus, because I make so much of our food from scratch, the idea of adding another essential to our list was unappealing.
One day I worked out the price and realized that by using a 16-ounce pack of almonds that sells for about $4.50, I was actually paying only about $1.50 for four cups of almond milk, the equivalent of one package from the store. I was wrong; it is actually cheaper to make almond milk from scratch than to buy it premade.
The only other objection I had to deal with was how much of a pain it was going to be making it on my own. The only way to answer my question was to try it, so I pulled up some directions on the internet and went to work.
The first batch I made with cheesecloth, and the cloth wasn't wide enough so I keep spilling smushy almond pulp back into my milk bowl. That was annoying and made the process more time consuming, but even with that obstacle it still wasn't all that hard. On the second batch I found the solution: a nut milk bag.
You can find sprouting bags or nut milk bags on Amazon for about $7, and they should last you a long time. The key is to keep them in good shape by washing them as soon as you're done so there's no chance for them to mold or get smelly. I just rinse off any excess pulp and then run really hot water across the bag. Here's my favorite trick too: I strain my almond milk with the nut milk bag turned inside out so the almond pulp doesn't gather on the sewn seams inside. It's much easier to clean.
The biggest benefit I see to homemade almond milk is that it truly takes advantage of all the healthy components of almonds, rather than adding pasteurization that could destroy the healthful enzymes, adding preservatives to keep it shelf stable, and adding other chemicals I don't want to eat. It's also easy and it saves me money, so it's a win all around.
Now to learn how to make almond milk...
Making homemade almond milk is very simple. This is a recipe for four cups of almond milk, but you can easily make larger batches. The entire process takes 8 hours of inactive soaking time and about 5 minutes of active preparation.
Put one cup of rinsed almonds in a bowl and cover it with water and a small pinch of salt. Allow the almonds to soak for 8 or more hours.
See how the nuts expand and seem to take up two cups worth of space after soaking? Drain the soaking liquid and rinse the almonds thoroughly, until the water runs clear.
Add the almonds and three cups of fresh, filtered water to a blender. This is a time when a strong blender like Vitamix is really important. You don't want any grittiness in your almond milk, and the more pulverized you can get it, the less of the pulp you'll need to strain out.
Blend on high until the mixture has no big chunks and looks like liquid. With my Vitamix this whole process takes no longer than 30 seconds, but with other blenders it might take a few minutes longer. Homemade almond milk is one of my favorite things to make in my blender because it's so fast and becomes so smooth in the Vitamix, so I really feel like I'm getting a better product than what I can buy.
Strain the almond milk mixture through a nut milk bag or a large piece of cheesecloth with very fine holes.
Squeeze the bag tightly to make sure to get all of the milk out of the almond pulp. This is about when I start smiling to myself about how similar this might be to milking a cow (let's be honest-- I've never actually milked a cow.)
The remaining pulp is called almond okara, and you can either compost it, throw it out, freeze it to dehydrate later for almond flour, or find a recipe that calls for okara.
Pour your finished homemade almond milk into storage containers. I love antique milk bottles, and I find filling them with fresh vegan almond milk very ironic.
Check out my cute little cow creamer too.
Some people really like the flavor of vanilla in their almond milk and others like it sweetened. On special occasions we've even gone a little wild and made chocolate almond milk.
Once your basic recipe is finished, you can sweeten or flavor to your heart's content. I recommend starting with less, such as 1 teaspoon vanilla, stirring it in, and then tasting it to see if you have your favorite flavor. You can always add more, but you can't take out anything once you've added it.
I make four cups of milk for our family of two, and it lasts us for about 3-4 days. We typically only use it for cereal and we don't drown our cereal in milk, so it gives us quite a few bowls. When I bake I tend to go through more milk, so I might make it every other day or so during heavy times.
If you have a larger family or drink more milk than us, you can definitely double (or triple, quadruple) the recipe to fit your needs. I promise it will still be cheaper than buying it in the cardboard containers. You'll just need larger bowls and storage containers.
I have to caution you against making more homemade almond milk than your family can finish within 4-5 days. This is completely fresh almond milk with absolutely no added preservatives, so it will not last. The smell test is the best way to ascertain whether you've let it sit for too long.
In 2007, the United States FDA banned truly raw almonds in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. This measure was in response to a salmonella outbreak on raw almonds, and to me, it seems that rather than actually going to the root of the problem (factory farming), they threw a bandaid on the symptom by outlawing a harmless food. There's nothing else wrong with raw almonds.
Yes, we still buy almonds in our stores that are labeled as raw, but they are actually pasteurized and that somehow enables them to call the nuts raw. The problem with the pasteurization process is that there are a few methods to pasteurize; steaming, high infrared heat, and treatment with propylene oxide, which makes the nuts by definition, not raw. Companies do not have to tell you which method they use to pasteurize.
According to www.mbow.org, Propylene Oxide is a carcinogen, and was listed as an insecticide until 1988 when its registration expired. Why it is still allowed is part of the mystery of our food system as it currently stands.
If you are buying almond milk in the store, you are getting these fake raw almonds, so if you choose to use them to make homemade almond milk; you're really dealing with the same issue.
What can we do about it? We can tell our elected officials that these products should be labeled properly with the type of pasteurization they go through, and that we prefer truly raw nuts. And we can use our dollars to show what we support by buying almonds that are labeled as unpasteurized. You can find these online (example here) or from reputable farmers at farmers markets.
To go back to my "it's cheaper" argument, these real raw almonds will not be $4.50 for a 16-ounce package, but they would probably still be cheaper than buying almond milk made from truly raw almonds.
Although I've become dubious of what the term "organic" truly means in our current food system, I opt for the most contaminated produce on the dirty dozen list in organic form as often as possible. I haven't been able to find much on the contamination of tree nuts, so whether to buy organic or not is up to you. When it's one of those on-the-fence moments for me in the grocery store, I typically decide if that day I want to show that I choose organic even if it means paying $0.40 more for something or not.
One consideration is that because almonds are covered with a very hard shell, it's less likely that the pesticides, insecticides, and other chemicals sprayed onto the outside of the nut will actually make it to the nut and harm you. Don't forget that the highest concentrations of pesticides are actually in meat and dairy products because those animals eat food that is sprayed with chemicals and then the chemicals become part of the animal's flesh and bodily fluids. When people eat that flesh and drink that milk, they take in more chemicals than when they eat vegetables.
One of the benefits that vegans get from store-bought nondairy milks is that they are often fortified with vitamins and minerals that might be more difficult for us to consume by solely eating plant foods. Luckily, you can easily fortify homemade almond milk with added nutrients.
A popular additive is calcium, and so you can add calcium citrate (the vegan version) to your milk after you strain the pulp. Many people like to take magnesium citrate wither their calcium supplement to make it more absorbable.
You could also add vegan vitamin D, vitamin B12, or any other nuts to balance out the nutrients. Remember that each nut provides a different set of vitamins and minerals.
Side note on drinking nut milks: One of the big questions I get from non-vegans about my diet is if I'm worried about consuming a lot of soy. In reality, we actually eat very little soy in our household, and what we do eat is organic, non-GMO, whole (and usually fermented) soy products like tempeh. People who eat food from fast food restaurants, and any pre-packaged foods from the grocery store are the ones who consume the most soy products, and in the least healthy forms.
One of the first benefits of soaking nuts is that it makes the nut creamier and softer. When you blend a soaked nut, it will more quickly turn into a creamy paste than if it is hard and dry.
From a health standpoint, nuts have higher levels of phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, which can bind to healthful enzymes in your body and make them wash out rather than absorb into our body. When you soak nuts, it cancels out that enzyme stealing mechanism and allows you to digest and absorb the nutrients in the nuts more efficiently.
Adding a pinch of salt to the soaking water also helps to neutralize the enzyme inhibitors, and it brings out the flavor of the nuts.
I've seen homemade almond milk made both ways, and I think that those who remove the skin do so because it makes the milk whiter in color. If you want to pop the skin off, it's super easy to do after the nuts have soaked- just press on one end and the shell pops off.
I do not take the shell off for two reasons: one, it takes more time because it's adding an extra step, and two, the skin actually has tons of nutrients in it. Almond skin is packed with the antioxidants called flavonoids, which protect body cells from damage and they help remove free radicals from the body. I say, leave the skin on the almonds!
You can use this process to make any kind of nut milk you please. We love experimenting with different flavors and combinations of nuts.
In the interest of full disclosure, this recipe contains affiliate links for both Amazon and Vitamix, which means that if you click through and decide to buy, I get a commission and you help support me running Vegan Nutritionista.