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A Complete Guide to Nut, Seed & Grain Milks (& a Muesli Recipe to Get You Started)

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Soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk—along with a host of fancy new options, like hazelnut milk and hemp milk—are easy to find in grocery stores these days. Many of them are affordable, which means that making non-dairy milk at home, from scratch, is sometimes more expensive and always a little more time-consuming than buying a carton at your local health food store.

In spite of this, I think it’s worth it. Here’s why.

  • Flavor. Store-bought almond milk tastes perfectly fine. But there’s just no comparison between the rich, sweet taste of homemade nut milk and store-bought versions. In addition, making nut milks at home allows you to modify and control flavor in accordance with your preferences. You can add vanilla, chai spices, cocoa, cinnamon, or even a dash of turmeric, which is a favorite flavor upgrade of mine.
Moroccan-style almond milk flavored with orange blossom water.
Moroccan-style almond milk flavored with orange blossom water. Photo by James Ransom
  • Texture. Homemade nut milk is usually a lot creamier and more decadent than what you’ll buy in the store, which means that it does a better job of approximating the richness of dairy. I also love that you can choose whether to strain homemade nut milk; the unstrained versions are reminiscent of crème fraiche or heavy cream, which is great for muesli, while the strained versions are perfect for smoothies, coffee, or drinking straight up.
Honey-sweetened pecan milk.
Honey-sweetened pecan milk. Photo by Amber Wilson
  • Variety. The possibilities of homemade non-dairy milk are endless. Almost any kind of nut or seed can be “milked”—not just almonds, but hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamias, pecans, pumpkin seeds…the list goes on. Each has a subtly different flavor. Different grains will work, too, including oats, rice, and quinoa (which is my latest favorite). Making non-dairy milk at home means looking at your pantry and seeing what could be put to good use, and it means more diversity than you’d get otherwise.
  • DIY Satisfaction. You can’t put a price tag on the satisfaction and fun that comes from rolling up your sleeves and crafting something from scratch—even if it takes you a couple extra minutes.
Ah, almond milk.
Ah, almond milk. Photo by James Ransom

If you’re just getting started with homemade nut milks, it can be tough to figure out which to make first and what the differences are. Is there a difference between almond and pecan milk? Cashew and oat? Do you have to strain them? What about soaking nuts beforehand? How long do they keep?

Here’s a quick primer to address all of your burning non-dairy DIY questions on...

  1. Soaking
  2. Straining
  3. Cost
  4. Storage and shelf-life
  5. Use

...along with my go-to formula for homemade non-dairy milk.

Photos by James Ransom, Amber Wilson

1. Soaking

For the most part, especially if you’re working with a less powerful blender, it helps to soak nuts and seeds ahead of time. There aren’t any hard and fast rules here, but here’s a general rundown of soak times.

  • Almonds: 8 to 10 hours
  • Cashews: 2 hours
  • Brazil nuts: 4 hours
  • Hazelnuts: 8 to 10 hours
  • Pecans: 6 hours
  • Macadamia nuts: 2 hours
  • Walnuts: 4 hours
  • Most seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame) require only 2 hours of soaking, but you don’t need to soak hemp seeds at all before you blend them
  • As far as grain milks go, rolled oats require no soaking before you blend them
  • Neither do rice or quinoa, but these should be cooked before blending—especially if you’re not working with a high-speed blender

You should always drain the soak water and add fresh water before making your milk.

Photo by James Ransom

2. To Strain or Not to Strain?

Straining nut or grain milk ensures a super smooth, as-good-as-commercial texture. You can do this easily by pouring the milk through a double layer of cheesecloth or through a nut milk bag (they’re very cheap to purchase online, and they’re reusable, so they’ll last you a long time) and then squeezing the milk into a large bowl or wide-mouth mason jar.

It’s an extra step, though, and if I don’t really need a super-smooth consistency, I’ll often leave my homemade milks unstrained. This works especially well with soft, buttery nuts and seeds, like macadamia, cashew, and hemp seeds (the skins on almonds and hazelnuts can make unstrained milk a little gritty, especially if you don’t have a powerful blender) and with grains.

Oat groats with homemade almond milk.
Oat groats with homemade almond milk. Photo by James Ransom

3. Cost

For the most part, grain milks—like oat and rice—are a lot less expensive than nut and seed milks. Seed milks are generally cheaper than nut milks, but nut milks can make a lot of budgetary sense if you shop in the bulk bins of your local health food store or purchase nuts in bulk online. If you see a deal on a particular type of nut, grab it. Use almonds, cashews, walnuts and pecans for everyday nut milks, and more pricey nuts—like hazelnuts or macadamias—for special blends and edible gifts.

4. Storage & Shelf Life

Store nut and grain milks in mason jars or other airtight containers in the fridge. The shelf life of most homemade, non-dairy milks varies a little (I find that almond and hazelnut milks last longer than seed milk or cashew milk), but for the most part, count on them keeping for 2 to 3 days at most. (If they’ve gone off, they’ll taste and smell bitter, rather than sweet.) If a batch is about to go bad and you haven't had a chance to drink it all, freeze it in an ice cube tray for tossing to into smoothies.

A creamy cashew milk latte.
A creamy cashew milk latte. Photo by James Ransom

5. Use

If you’re pouring your homemade milk into a bowl of cereal, blending it into a smoothie, or baking with it, you can pretty much use nut and grain milks interchangeably. But for certain purposes, nut milks work better than grain milks. I like to use strained nut milks in my morning coffee. Unstrained nut milks work great for lending creamy consistency and texture to soups, stews, and sauces. And I love the thickness of unstrained oat, rice, or quinoa milk in muesli or soaked porridge (same goes for unstrained nut milk). Play around a little, and over time, you’ll develop a sense of how best to use your DIY creations!

Ready to strain! (Or not!) Photos by Amber Wilson, James Ransom

Is There a Universal Nut/Seed/Grain Milk Formula?

Not exactly. Some folks prefer a richer and thicker blend, so they use a slightly higher ratio of nuts/seeds/grains to water. But for the most part, a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio works well, and all that’s needed on top of that is a pinch of salt. If you’d like to make the milk a little sweet, adding a few pitted dates or a few tablespoons of maple syrup or agave and a teaspoon of vanilla works beautifully. Here’s my universal formula, which you can adapt to fit most any nut or grain base:

Homemade Non-Dairy Milk

Makes about 4 1/2 cups

1 cup soaked and drained nuts or seeds, rolled oats, or cooked quinoa or rice
3 to 4 cups water (3 for something richer and thicker, 4 if you’re straining or if you’d like a thinner consistency)
Pinch salt
For sweet milk: 4 pitted Medjool dates or 3 tablespoons maple syrup or agave plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional flavorings: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or 1 teaspoon fresh ginger), 3 tablespoons cocoa powder... the list goes on!

Place all ingredients in a powerful blender and blend till smooth. Strain if desired. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge till you’re ready to use.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

And finally, today’s recipe: vegan Bircher muesli made with vanilla macadamia milk.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

This nut milk shows off how easy it is to make a great milk without having to fuss with straining, and it’s also a good example of how versatile homemade nut milk can be. Here, the creamy macadamia milk acts more as a substitute for yogurt (to keep the tradition in your vegan muesli) than for milk, and this is all thanks to a slighter higher ratio of nuts to water and the fact that the milk isn’t strained.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

The muesli itself is delightful: sweet, rich, and very authentic. For a creative holiday gift, try giving the muesli mix in one mason jar, and the mac milk in another, plus instructions for how to soak and prepare the cereal.

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Vanilla Macadamia Milk

C04d249c ce6c 4b53 a221 55abd824bca0  gena hamshaw by james ransom Gena Hamshaw

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Makes 4 1/2 to 5 cups
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, soaked for 2 hours (or up to 10) and drained
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
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Creamy Vegan Bircher Muesli

C04d249c ce6c 4b53 a221 55abd824bca0  gena hamshaw by james ransom Gena Hamshaw

47 Save Recipe
Serves 4
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 4 teaspoons chia seeds
  • 3 tablespoons slivered or sliced almonds
  • 3 tablespoons coconut flakes (or shredded coconut, though the flakes will hold their own better overnight!)
  • 2 pitted and chopped Medjool dates
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated, fresh ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder)
  • 3 1/2 cups vanilla macadamia milk (
  • Maple syrup, for serving (optional)

What's your favorite non-dairy milk, and do you make it yourself at home? Tell us in the comments!

Tags: vegan, nut milk, nuts, non-dairy milks, almond milk