By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
What It Is
It may not come from something that moos, but we still call it milk. Almond milk and other nut milks -- such as those made from hazelnuts, pecans and even Brazil nuts -- are gaining in popularity. How do you get milk from something as dry as an almond? You soak them for up to eight hours, then toss 'em in a blender with a little water and maybe some vanilla. The resulting creation gets strained through a cloth, and voilà: almond milk for your coffee, oatmeal, smoothies and baked goods!
The Dirty Deets
I know, I know: You're not planning to make your own almond milk anytime soon, since it's so easy to buy at the store. Most commercial unsweetened almond milks will run you 30 to 40 calories and provide roughly one gram of protein, one gram of fiber and three grams of fat per eight-ounce serving. That saves you over half the calories of nonfat cow's milk, although Bessie's version has significantly more protein (about eight grams).
- Homemade almond milk is 100 percent nutritious and delicious, but some mass-produced versions leave a lot to be desired. In an effort to make almond milk look and taste like cow's milk, manufacturers add vitamins, stabilizers and sweeteners that take away from the good stuff. Look for ingredients you know!
- A good brand of almond milk -- one that doesn't contain those added sugars and chemicals -- is great for controlling blood sugar, since the carbohydrate content is low. Almond milk is also rich in good fats, which promote a healthy heart and keep you feeling full.
- One serving of almond milk provides 50 percent of your daily vitamin E needs, making it great for your skin.
How To Chow Down
Almond milk and other nut milks are spectacular for vegetarian, vegan and Paleo diets. They're also a great choice if lactose isn't your friend. You can use almond milk as a replacement for dairy milk in recipes or your daily diet. It works great in mashed potatoes, you can definitely use it in your oatmeal, and it absolutely shines in both coffee and tea. (Reviewer's note: Homemade almond milk is low in calcium, so if you swap it for cow's milk, be sure to seek out good sources of calcium. Buying almond milk in a store? Look for fortified versions, which will provide calcium and vitamin D.)
- Almond milk is super versatile. You can use it to make a tropical papaya smoothie that tastes like the islands. Prefer a trip to Europe? Enjoy a Parisian hot cocoa. Or get creative with a butternut squash-and-cinnamon smoothie that tastes like autumn any time of year.
- Don't be afraid to cook with it. Try baking up some vegan chocolate-cherry-cupcake lovin'. Or pull off some Paleo punkin' waffles.
In The Know
If you're adventurous and want to try making your own delicious almond milk, invest in a nut-milk bag. (Even your finest sieve won't do the job as efficiently.) Once the liquid is strained from the almonds to make the milk, you're left with a huge amount of "pulp" (mushy almond meal). Don't chuck it: This stuff is a really nutritious by-product that can be added to yogurt, nut butters, baked goods, sauces and smoothies, and it freezes really well. You go, master chef!