There’s a funny story that involves HaShem asking an angel about some human behavior He’s observed. “What are they doing down there?” He asks.
“They’re making milk from nuts,” the angel replies.
“But I gave them animals to get milk from: cows, goats, sheep, even buffalo.”
“They don’t like that milk,” the animal explains. When HaShem replies, it’s easy to imagine His exasperated tone: “Oh, they don’t like that milk.”
Anyone who has tried to feed a toddler can understand the frustration.
The angel could have been talking about me. I once counted five types of milk on the top shelf of my fridge once: 2%, whole milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and oat milk.
Because we use milk for so many things and so many times per day, this has been a great area to reduce my family’s environmental footprint. While my kids will only reach for plant-based milk if they are fleishig, my husband and I have both transitioned almost exclusively away from cow’s milk (he still uses it for the occasional bowl of cereal) to almond, oat, and cashew milk. As you can see in this graphic from The Earthling Co. (their solid dish soap and dish scrubbers are on my to-try list), making the switch away from cow’s milk means less carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere, and both water and land use is decreased. Overall, oat milk is the best swap, and I find it’s the creamiest and most milk-like of all the options you’re likely to see at the grocery (including cashew and macadamia, which aren’t on this chart). Unfortunately, it also carries a higher calorie count than other plant milks, so right now, it’s not an option that works for me.
I pivoted to plant milk several years ago, and lately, I’ve been trying to see if I could find a way to source it that made my choice even greener. I tried out making nut milks using premade concentrate from a company called Joi. This is a great option because their products ship in glass jars and the only thing that isn’t recyclable in the packaging is the packing slip that comes inside the box. (I am currently stockpiling the empty jars for mishloach manot.) It also takes seconds to mix up in the blender. Your first order comes with a reusable pitcher you can keep in the fridge, so you won’t be throwing out a container each time you run out.
At my house, switching to Joi keeps at least four containers out of the recycling bin each month—more when I’m cooking for yom tov since I use plant milk in place of other chemical-laden parve cooking and baking solutions. And, because the water comes out of my tap rather than being mixed in before shipping, the amount of fossil fuels it takes to bring Joi milk to the table is significant. Win! I also love that I can set up a subscription so I never run out, and I can mix it up in less than two minutes; it’s just concentrate and water. This choice does add more to my grocery budget (71 cents a cup versus 28 cents a cup), but since I’ve saved money by cutting out single-use disposables, I don’t really feel it at the bottom line.
For additional savings, you can make your own nut milk with the help of a high-speed mixer like a Vitamix. I hadn’t tried this until recently because of the time involved, but with my calendar a little clearer this past week, I tested it out. Compared to Joi, it’s definitely cheaper (43 cents a cup based on buying the three-pound bag of raw almonds at Costco), but the nuts come in plastic bags, so the environmental impact is a little higher. There’s also a bigger time commitment: about 10 minutes of active time, and I have to remember to presoak the nuts, which will be a real challenge for me.
To make almond milk, I started by soaking one cup of almonds for four hours. (I will try cashew next, with a soaking time of one hour, because they are a softer nut.) After draining, I blended the nuts with three cups of water on low speed for 10 seconds and 40 seconds on high, as recommended by Vitamix. I prefer unsweetened nut milk, but you could certainly add in dates, agave syrup, or your favorite sweetener.
Whatever nut you choose, you’ll need to strain the nut solids out, which does take a few minutes. I skipped purchasing a bag made exclusively for straining nut milk and tried one of the mesh produce bags I already had on hand. To do so, I just pushed about half of the bag into the pitcher I was using and poured the milk through slowly, squeezing out liquid as it became necessary. The result was a thicker, richer nut milk than what I had been used to buying in containers. The next time I make my own nut milk from nuts, I will add additional water, bumping the per-cup price down slightly. I used the almond milk in both chai and hot cocoa, and it tasted great in both cases, but I don’t think I’d like it in most herbal teas or something with its own distinctive flavor profile, such as Earl Grey. For that, I would probably go with cashew milk, which will have a more neutral flavor profile.
Of course, with the from-scratch methods, you’ll also be left with a little more than a cup of nut solids, aka nut pulp. I found many tips online for using the nut pulp to make nut flour. If you do a lot of gluten-free cooking, you’ll find ready use for all that nut flour. I plan to try this at Pesach if I purchase a Pesach-only container for my Vitamix. I also tried mixing about a tablespoon of the almond pulp into a morning smoothie as several bloggers I read suggested, but I didn’t love the texture. My husband seemed unconvinced about trying some in his overnight oats, and after the smoothie experience, I certainly wasn’t going to push it. He puts up enough with enough from my low-waste mishegoss as it is without me ruining his breakfast! (I try very hard to only introduce a change once the previous one is well-established: no more than one a month.) With Shabbos on the horizon, I spent a bit of time googling recipes to use the almond pulp and, after some tweaking, made coconut, chocolate, and almond cookies covered in caramel sauce: delicious!
I’ll probably still use Joi primarily because it’s so convenient, but when it comes to budgeting, making my own almond milk is a much cheaper option than using Joi’s concentrate. It’s important to remember that the low price we are used to paying for many products is only possible because the costs are shifted somewhere else, such as higher costs for trash pickup, or borne by someone else, such as people living in drought conditions in California (or India, where most cashews are grown) whose local water is being shipped to my home.
Whatever milk I’m drinking, investigating the environmental impact of creating it has increased the gratitude I feel to HaKadosh Barukh Hu for the incredibly delicate web of factors and circumstances that gives my family such an abundance of milk options to choose from (thanks for that milk HaShem!). Learning more about the tradeoffs that come with each kind of milk requires me to think deeply about whether a small savings in cost or calories is worth the tradeoffs. After reading about the devastating effects of almond farming on bees, I’ll definitely be giving oat milk another look.
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