We are now in an era of peak almond milk. The plant-based milk substitute has gone from a niche, natural store product to one that’s ubiquitous in American life. You can buy it in most grocery stores, in many flavors: vanilla, chocolate, sweet or unsweet, even pumpkin spice. Earlier this fall, Starbucks announced that it will begin stocking almond milk in more than 4,600 stores across the country. According to a recent piece in Bloomberg Businessweek, Americans bought $890 million worth of the stuff last year. And yet, so rarely is one of the major issues with this milk substitute addressed: almond milk is bad.
As a substance, almond milk is inherently suspect. You cannot milk an almond. Almonds, if squeezed by intense pressure, may produce some liquid, but more likely they will pop. (Hi, hydraulic press channel? I have a challenge for you.) What you are actually drinking, when you drink almond milk, is water that nuts have been soaking in for a long time, plus various gelling agents. It is a waste of delicious, resource-intensive almonds. And it isn't even that much almond! Per Businessweek, “Almond milk usually contains only 2 percent almonds.”
If that’s your cup of tea—or what you prefer to put in your cup of tea—then that’s just fine. I am not here to knock your morning beverage out of your hands in a rage. And I get that actual dairy milk from cows is also gross for various reasons. If you are lactose intolerant or vegan or just not into the idea of drinking actual dairy, I’m sure it is very nice to have a range of milk-like options to lighten your drink—coconut, soy, or, yes, almond.
But I am a latecomer to milk, and thus have the enthusiasm of the newly converted. I went through most of my life despising the stuff, as my parents fretted about the calcium deficiency that would inevitably turn my bones into dust. I ate cereal dry; I drank tea black. There was no principle behind it. I just hated how milk tasted. Why bother?
Then, a few years ago, raggedly tired in the middle of summer, I decided to try iced coffee. I found it too bitter to drink by itself, so, reluctantly—because I had just found out that sugar or syrups in drinks tends to trigger my migraines—I reached for the milk jug. To my surprise, I no longer found the addition of milk gross—it added a slight richness, a mellow tone that cut through the bitter coffee. “It tastes kind of like a milkshake!” I exclaimed to my coffee shop companion. “Dude, did you just discover whole milk?” she asked.
Oh, right. In the fat-horror climate of the ‘90s I grew up in, what I had hated all along was skim milk. Skim milk does not taste like milk. (And why were we so afraid of whole milk in the first place? Do you know how much fat is in whole milk? I once erroneously said 100%, because that's what "whole" means, but no, a gallon of whole milk is not a brick of lard. It is roughly 3.5% fat. That is completely reasonable.) As Ron Swanson said, “There’s only one thing I hate more than lying: skim milk. Which is water that’s lying about being milk.” I feel similarly about almond milk. When I have tried almond milk, or splashed it into my daily coffee, it tastes like skim milk infused with the particular mustiness of the bottom of a bag of trail mix. It tastes like austerity, like denying myself something I actually like for unclear, vaguely healthy reasons. It tastes like a lie.
We all have lies that we hold dear, and if almond milk is what you love, than I wish you nothing but happiness together. But consider why it is you are avoiding the half-and-half, the whole milk, the cream. Consider why it is you’re passing it up for nut particles suspended in water. And maybe take a deep breath and step back from the almond milk. It is bad.