Almond milk has become an increasingly popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. With its creamy texture and nutty flavor, almond milk can be used in many of the same ways as dairy milk – in coffees, cereals, baked goods, and more. But despite its name containing the word “milk,” almond milk is quite different from the milk that comes from cows or other animals. This raises the question: Why is almond milk called milk when it’s made from almonds, not dairy? Let’s take a closer look at how almond milk is made and why it’s categorized as a milk rather than a juice.
How Almond Milk is Made
Almond milk is made by soaking almonds in water, then blending and straining the mixture to remove the almond pulp and skins. The basic process is:
- Soak raw almonds in water overnight to soften them
- Drain and rinse the almonds
- Blend the almonds with fresh water in a high-speed blender until smooth and creamy
- Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth, nut milk bag or fine mesh strainer to remove the almond pulp and skins
- The strained liquid is the almond milk
Sometimes extra ingredients are added for flavor and texture, such as salt, vanilla, and sweeteners. But the main ingredients are simply almonds and water, which produces a creamy, plant-based beverage. This is quite different from the process of making dairy milk, which requires milking animals.
Comparing Almond Milk and Juice
To understand why almond milk is considered a milk, let’s compare it to fruit and vegetable juices:
The main differences are:
- Almond milk is a creamy, opaque liquid extracted by soaking and blending almonds in water.
- Juices are produced by extracting and sometimes pressing fruits/veggies to release their liquid.
Almond milk is more akin to dairy milk in texture and color than fruit juices. This is why it is considered a type of plant-based milk. The US FDA even has a standard of identity for almond milk defining it as a “milk.”
Nutritional Profile Differences
In addition to textural and visual differences, the nutritional profiles of almond milk and fruit juice are quite distinct:
|1 cup Almond Milk
|1 cup Orange Juice
Some key differences:
- Almond milk is very low in calories and carbs compared to juice.
- Fruit juice has more natural sugars, while almond milk has little to no sugars.
- Almond milk has more fat from the almonds, but less protein.
With its watery base and minimal carbs/sugars, almond milk is nutritionally closer to skim milk than it is to juice. This further demonstrates why it is considered a type of milk.
How Almond Milk is Used
Almond milk can be used as a substitute for dairy milk in many applications, which also supports its classification as milk:
|Food Preparation Uses
Fruit juices are not interchangeable with milk in cooking and baking. But almond milk can be used in place of dairy milk in many recipes, further cementing its status as a non-dairy milk option.
Regulatory Classification as Milk
In the United States, the FDA sets standards of identity that define what can be labeled as certain food products. Almond milk meets the FDA standard of identity for “milk,” which is defined as:
The lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.
The key aspects are that milk is a lacteal secretion coming from the milking of animals. The FDA makes allowances for non-dairy milks, like almond milk, to be labeled as “milk” as long as the non-dairy source is clearly stated, such as “almond milk.”
So while almond milk does not fit the technical FDA definition of milk since it does not come from milking cows or other animals, it has been granted an exception to use the term “milk” on its labeling, provided “almond” is also included.
Is Almond Milk Healthier Than Dairy Milk?
Many consumers choose almond milk because they perceive it as a healthier option than dairy milk. But is it really better for you?
|Dairy Milk (2%, cow’s)
|39 per cup
|122 per cup
|2.5g per cup
|5g per cup
|1g per cup
|8g per cup
|None unless fortified
|Naturally contains Vit. D
|451mg per cup if calcium-fortified
|293mg per cup
|0g per cup
|12g per cup
- Almond milk is lower in calories and fat compared to dairy milk.
- Dairy milk naturally has more protein, Vitamin D, and calcium.
- Almond milk has no sugar naturally, while dairy milk has lactose sugar.
- Calcium and vitamin D are added to many almond milks through fortification.
For those watching their weight or limiting sugar, almond milk may offer some advantages nutritionally. But dairy milk still wins when it comes to protein, vitamins, and minerals. Overall, almond milk can be part of healthy diet, but is not necessarily healthier than dairy milk on its own.
In addition to potential health advantages, some consumers choose plant-based milks for environmental reasons. Dairy milk has a large environmental footprint due to the resources needed to maintain dairy herds and manage animal waste. Comparatively, almond milk has a much smaller environmental impact.
|632 liters per liter of milk
|372 liters per liter of milk
|3.2 kg CO2 per liter
|0.7 kg CO2 per liter
|8.9 m2 per liter of milk
|2.5 m2 per liter of milk
- Producing almond milk uses nearly half as much water as dairy milk.
- Almond milk generates far fewer carbon emissions than the dairy industry.
- Significantly less land is needed to produce almond milk compared to the grazing land required for dairy cows.
So almond milk is generally more sustainable and better for the environment than dairy milk. This can be an important factor for eco-conscious consumers.
Another major reason why many people switch to almond milk is lactose intolerance. Lactose is the natural sugar found in mammalian milk. An estimated 65% of the global population has some degree of lactose intolerance.
People with lactose intolerance lack sufficient levels of the enzyme lactase needed to properly digest lactose. When they consume dairy milk, it can cause digestive symptoms like:
Since plant-based milks like almond milk do not contain lactose, they are safe alternatives for people with lactose intolerance. Almond milk provides the creamy texture and mild flavor of dairy milk without the digestive discomfort.
While almond milk is lactose-free, it is not suitable for people with almond allergies. Almonds are tree nuts, and tree nuts are common allergens. Those with an almond allergy could experience reactions like:
- Itching or swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
- Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath
People with nut allergies should avoid almond milk and choose another non-dairy milk option, like soy milk or oat milk.
Added Sugars and Ingredients
When comparing different brands of commercial almond milk, it’s important to check the ingredient lists. Some contain added sugars or thickening agents:
- Sugars: Cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup
- Thickeners: Carrageenan, gums
- Emulsifiers: Lecithin, vegetable glycerin
Sweeteners are sometimes added to enhance flavor. Thickeners give almond milk a richer, creamier consistency. And emulsifiers help the almonds and water blend together smoothly.
Those avoiding added sugars or additives may want to choose unsweetened almond milks with short, simple ingredients. But sweetened and flavored varieties can be fine in moderation.
A final consideration when choosing between dairy and almond milk is cost. Almond milk tends to cost significantly more:
|Average Price (US)
|Dairy milk (1 gallon)
|Almond milk (1 gallon)
|Almond milk (1/2 gallon)
On average, almond milk costs nearly twice as much as dairy milk per gallon. The price difference is smaller for smaller cartons, but still significant. Over time, switching from dairy to almond milk could increase grocery costs for households that consume a lot of milk.
Making Homemade Almond Milk
To avoid added ingredients and control cost, some people make DIY almond milk at home. All you need is:
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 4 cups water
- Pinch of salt (optional)
- Sweetener like honey if desired
- Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth
Steps to make:
- Soak almonds 8-12 hours
- Drain and rinse almonds
- Blend almonds with water, salt, and any sweeteners
- Strain mixture through cheesecloth or strainer into container
- Store homemade almond milk in fridge up to 1 week
With just 5 ingredients and 10 minutes active prep time, homemade almond milk is simple and affordable. It can be customized to specific tastes and dietary needs.
While almond milk doesn’t come from cow’s milk or contain dairy, it qualifies as a type of “milk” due to:
- Its creamy opaque texture
- Neutral flavor similar to dairy milk
- Ability to substitute for milk in cooking, coffee, and more
- FDA standard of identity permitting it to be labeled as almond “milk”
Nutritionally, almond milk is lower in fat and calories than dairy milk, but also lacks some of dairy’s protein and micronutrients. Environmentally, almond milk has sustainability advantages by using fewer resources compared to dairy milk production.
Ultimately, almond milk is considered a milk alternative rather than a juice because of its similarity in texture, color, and usage to cow’s milk. Its origins from soaked and blended almonds don’t disqualify it from being categorized broadly as a type of plant-based milk alongside other options like soy, coconut, and oat milk.