The term “nut milk” is typically used to describe any sort of liquid made primarily from crushed nuts. In most cases, the name is something of a misnomer as no actual milk is usually involved, though the end result often has a milky appearance. Many people use it as a milk replacement in recipes, as an additive to drinks like coffee or tea, and even on its own by the glassful. There can be a lot of variation when it comes to what exactly a nut milk contains, but in its most basic form, the liquid is usually quite healthful and contains many important nutrients.
The simplest nut milks are usually little more than nuts blended with water to create a thick, milk-like beverage. People have been creating this sort of concoction for centuries, particularly in nut-rich areas like the southern United States and the Mediterranean. When nearly any sort of nut is ground into a paste then blended with a liquid, the result is what most modern marketers refer to as a “milk.” These milks tend to have high levels of protein and other nutrients, and they have the added benefit of a long shelf life. Most dairy products will sour or spoil without constant refrigeration, and even then, they are typically only good for a week or so. Many nut-based versions can sit out at room temperature for much longer without going bad.
Making nut milk is usually a very simple process. Once nuts are selected, they must be pulverized, usually in a blender or commercial-grade food processor. Once they have been reduced to a fine dust, they are reconstituted with water, fruit juice, or some other liquid.
People often have a lot of latitude when it comes to what specific ingredients are used to make the milk. They can blend nut varieties together, add sweeteners like honey or vanilla, or add extra thickeners like yogurt or dried fruits. All of these will change the character of the end result, as well as its nutritional profile and shelf life.
Most nut milks for sale in supermarkets and grocery chains contain far more than simply nuts and water. Flavoring agents and chemical stabilizers are frequently added as a way to improve the taste and consistency. It is always a good idea for shoppers to check the ingredient list of commercial versions in order to learn what they really contain in terms of preservatives and other additives.
Considerations for the Home Cook
Making this type of beverage at home can be quite easy, though it is often somewhat time-consuming. Simply blending raw nuts and water together will often lead to acceptable results, though the process is usually easier if the nuts have been soaked or even boiled in order to soften them.
Homemade versions may also need to be filtered before serving. Most home blenders are not able to completely pulverize nuts, which often leads to a sort of pulp that builds up at the bottom of the drink. Draining the finished product through a mesh sieve or cheesecloth will remove these granules and lead to a smoother result. Home chefs who are concerned about waste can save the pulp for use in baking or other cooking projects; otherwise, it can be discarded.
How It’s Used
There are about as many ways to use nut milk as there are to make it in the first place. Many people enjoy it is as a beverage, often as a replacement for animal-derived milk. It can also be used as a coffee creamer, cereal topper, and in baking. Cooks may also use it to lighten up certain dishes, particularly curries and soups. The unique taste and texture often adds a somewhat exotic flavor to a range of different dishes.
Athletes sometimes also drink these milks as a way of replenishing muscle mass after a workout. Most nuts are high in protein and so-called “good” fats, which makes them a healthy snack. Drinking them can be a quick way for the body to absorb the vitamins and minerals they contain.
Suitability for Vegans and Dieters
Nut milks are also very popular among vegans and people who are lactose intolerant. People in both of these groups avoid products made with animal-derived milk, but they can often eat nuts. Health food advocates and dieters also tend to flock to these sorts of milk alternatives, largely because of their appeal as “pure” and “natural.” While many versions have both of these qualities, this does not automatically make them low in fat or calories. Nuts are generally considered healthful, but do contain high levels of oils and natural fats. The exact amount depends on the variety used, but most of the time, ordinary milk is better for diet purposes than nut versions.
Special Precautions for Infants and Young Children
Nut drinks are not suitable replacements for regular milk or breast milk in young children. Infants, especially, have very different nutritional needs than adults do. In addition, medical experts strongly suggest that parents not give any products containing peanuts and tree nuts to children under the age of three years due to the risk of an allergic reaction. While it is possible to raise healthy vegan children or to create diets that will cater to certain allergies or food sensitivities, it should be done under the guidance of a medical professional. Simply swapping nut milk for regular milk is not usually a good idea where young children are concerned.