few years back there was a heated debate over whether plant-based beverages like soy or almond milk could be advertised as milk, which is legally defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as material from the glands of lactating mammals. The dairy industry, for obvious reasons, wanted the FDA to enforce that definition. A California judge ruled against the dairy industry, citing the fact that “language evolves.” As does food. And given that plant-based beverages do a lot of what milk does, and are growing in popularity for a variety of reasons, calling them “milk” makes sense in that light as well.
The homemade versions — especially nut milks — are spectacular. Properly made, they are superior to store bought on every metric, including flavor, texture, all around milkiness and even cost. And they don’t take long to prepare.
You must have a high-speed blender. I use a Vitamix. Blendtec makes a solid product, as does Ninja, though it’s harder to clean. I really like the speed control of the Vitamix, which has a dial rather than buttons. It’s akin to the difference between driving stick versus automatic, or cooking on gas versus electric. The point is:
A regular blender won’t cut it. A good blender is worth the investment.
The other thing you need is a food-grade cloth strainer. I purchased a nut milk bag at the local hippy food store for straining out skins, fibers and other grainy interruptions to the milky experience.
Of course, you need nuts. Raw and unsalted. My four favorites are almonds, hazelnuts, coconut and cashews, which isn’t technically a nut.
Each of these nut milks has its strengths. If you can find almonds that haven’t been steamed or irradiated, you can get them to sprout before making the almond milk, which is fun. Fresh, sprouted almond milk has the most aromatic flavor of any nut milk except perhaps coconut. Hazelnut milk is creamy with a slightly bitter flavor that blends well with chocolate. Cashew milk is the silkiest, with the creamiest feel, while coconut milk has actual fat you can skim.
Something else to consider is waste. Both almonds and coconut milk involve filtering out a lot of material, while cashew and hazelnuts produce almost none (but those small amounts are still worth filtering out).
Put the nuts in a high-speed blender with about six ice cubes and 3 to 6 cups of water, depending on how thick or thin you want it to be. Start on low speed and raise the speed incrementally until it’s going full blast. Let it go on high for about 30 seconds and turn off. Pour the liquid into your nut milk bag or whatever system you have and filter out the solids.
That’s it. You can lightly season it with sweetener, a pinch of salt and a drop of vanilla. Start light and explore the possibilities.
My own explorations led me into the fragrant arms of golden milk, an ayurvedic (ancient Indian) beverage that is having a moment, riding a wave of popularity around the internet and groovy cafes near you.
A milk-based drink with turmeric, ginger, black pepper and other spices, the flavor is a bit reminiscent of chai tea, and each cook will have a different formulation. It can be served hot or cold, mild or spicy, raspy or smooth.
My approach to golden milk is an attempt to recreate the golden milk I had at Loved By The Sun, a juice bar in Hilo, Hawaii. It was cashew-based, served cold, was not rip-your-face-off spicy but smooth and buttery, like an afternoon nap in the shade. They wouldn’t tell me how they make it, and I don’t blame them. But I think I’ve come pretty close.
Golden Cashew Milk
1 cup raw cashews, soaked
1 cubic inch of fresh turmeric, peeled and sliced
1 cubic inch of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 small pitted dates; about 1/4 cup
To taste: cayenne powder or thin-skinned red chile
Optional: Pinch or more of powdered turmeric for color
Add the dates, turmeric, ginger and spices to the blender, along with six ice cubes. Drain the cashews and pour on top with some fresh water. Grind, filter. Serve chilled.
The spices and dates can be blended by themselves, without ice cubes, water or cashews, and kept as a sweet spicy paste that can be added to milk, or used as a chutney.
The filtered golden milk is magnificent as is; a lush and spicy eggnog. It can also be combined with more ingredients to go even different places. Blending with avocado adds a stupendous body to the golden milk, such that a spoon may be required. Golden milk is great with coffee, too, but I wouldn’t go adding it to your morning coffee. As a general rule, plant milks fall short when it comes to doctoring coffee, but a shot or two of strong coffee in your golden milk fits in really well.