The Truth about Almond Milk Sustainability

almond milk sustainability

Almond milk isn’t worse for sustainability than cows milk. There have been a few viral articles getting a lot of attention that berate almond milk for being very unsustainable and as bad as cows milk for the environment. However, the research behind this is fundamentally flawed if you actually look at the details.

Homemade Almond Milk vs Commercial Almond Milk

The research that the “almond milk is very unsustainable” headline is based on uses a homemade almond milk recipe and presumes that almond milk manufactures use the same recipe. In reality homemade almond milk contains a high amount of almonds. Conversely almond milk manufacturers use a small amount of almonds and other ingredients such as carrageenan, xanthan gum, lecithin and other ingredients to pad out their almond milk.

[blockquote author=”Almond Milk vs. Cow Milk Life Cycle Assessment”]Since there was no accessible data from almond milk manufacturers on the amount of almonds in a liter of milk, we used a homemade almond milk recipe. We found that in one cup of almond milk, 46 almonds are needed, which converts to 194.43 almonds per liter of almond milk.[/blockquote]

almond milk ingredients

How Many Almonds in Almond Milk?

Most brands of almond milk comprise of between 1-2% almonds. This means there are about 15 almonds per 8 US cups (237ml) of almond milk. The research paper assumed 46 almonds are needed for 1 US cup of almond milk.

Converting into litres the researchers calculated that 194.43 almonds are needed for a litre of almond milk when in fact the true number is around 7.91 almonds are needed for manufacturers to make 1 litre of almond milk.

The flaw in the research shows their calculation is out by about 2400%.

inaccurate water usage almonds
This graph would look very different if it accounted for the fact the almond figure is out by around 2400% and should be smaller than the cow milk bar

Health Conscious People Use Mediterranean Almonds

80% of the world’s almonds are grown in California and this is where the big almond milk manufactures source their almonds from. However Californian almonds have a reputation as being low quality following several outbreaks of salmonella. There’s also concern over the use of fracking water for almond production. Following salmonella poisoning it’s been mandatory since 2008 for all Californian almonds to be pasteurised meaning there is no such thing as a raw Californian almond.

Due to California almonds often being low quality and always pasteurised the health-conscious consumer, who is the kind to make their own almond milk, is very likely to source almonds from Mediterranean regions where they are far more sustainable. In fact, I know several plant-based restaurants in the US and California that only use European almonds in their food. This isn’t terrible environmentally as its a relatively low carbon footprint to transport ambient food by boat.

Heart Healthy Almond Milk

Is Almond Milk Healthy

The almond milk for sale in the shops is very low in almonds and contains other additives and stabilisers. It’s little more than coloured water and is low in protein and heart-healthy fats.

Apart from anything, it’s expensive for the small amount of almonds and nutrition it contains. The unsweetened varieties I class as a neutral food that’s neither healthy nor unhealthy.

Not everyone following a dairy free diet is concerned about health and if you like almond milk then go for it. Although I recommend making your own almond milk as then the pulp can be used to make almond cheese.

Almond Milk and Almond Pulp Cheese Recipe

Almond Milk Bottom Line

There’s plenty of reasons why almond milk is undesirable; its low levels of almonds, the additives and the waste of transporting mainly water around. However when you compare it to cows milk it isn’t worse for the environment. For health reasons it’s better to make your own but there’s no need to feel guilty if you have some almond milk when this isn’t practical.

The research that was used to say how bad almond milk is for sustainability combined the high almond content of homemade almond milk with the high cost of transporting water. When these two factors do not coexist.

This article isn’t to promote shop bought almond milk, I personally always make my own and only have shop bought a handful of times. Hopefully this shows how flawed and inaccurate all the headlines are comparing the environmental impact of almond milk to cows milk.

What do you think about this? Please let me know in the comments below

Sources: Almond milk and Cheese recipeResearch paper on almond milk.

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10 thoughts on “The Truth about Almond Milk Sustainability”

  1. Thanks so much for doing this, I wish people would read behind the headlines. The gurdian is just as guilty of clickbaiting with misleading headlines as all the other tabloids

  2. you haven’t highlighted the fact that almonds should be activated (to remove phytic acid – as for all seeds) before use either for eating or turning into milk – not doing this is unhealthy..

    1. Hello Dylan, that’s an important point and I haven’t in this article as it’s about sustainability. But if you click through to my recipe linked in the article to sprouted Almond milk I have there. As I do in all my recipes tell people to activate/sprout nuts and seeds.

  3. Nice one Bastion . Our Almonds imported into New Zealand are coming from Argentina.
    Far superior in size, water issues there (it rains!)..
    Cheers for th good work

    1. Thanks Rich. Oh that’s interesting most of ours in the UK are USA. Glad you liked it, trying to show the flaws in viral headlines

  4. California almonds are not “poor quality,” but it is true that they now have to be heated or irradiated for commercial sale, because of poor handling in the past. They don’t grow with salmonella on them! We can still get excellent raw California almonds at farmer’s markets, direct from the growers.

    1. Sorry I didn’t mean to imply all Californian almonds are low quality, there are some great quality ones. The problem I see is since the law changed because of the low quality ones all now have to be pasteurized even though the high quality ones haven’t had any issues with salmonella. If you buy them raw from the grower is that illegal?

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