What Could We Call Plant Milks That Aren't Actually Milk?

March  3, 2017

Folks, it looks like the conflict over whether “soy milk” or “almond milk” should be called milk at all is flaring up again.

Last month, a cabal of 25 Congress members wrote a strongly-worded letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urging them to clamp down on manufacturers of plant-based milks who market their products as milk. These politicians contend that plant milk is not really milk, defined by the FDA as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”

Milk is a liquid produced by mammals, and a plant, as I’m sure you know, is not a mammal. These Congress members are couching the need for this shift in the concerns of dairy farmers, who have faced the brunt of declining dairy sales, citing a 40% drop in milk prices over the past three years.

Controversy around this nomenclature isn’t new. The FDA even issued a warning letter to Cytosport about the fact that their flagship protein supplement, Muscle Milk, contained no actual milk.

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If there’s a case for calling plant-based milks by any other name, I’d like to hear it. I’m all for being more precise about the language we use to talk about what we eat and cogent about the messaging around it, ultimately easing potential consumer confusion. Outside the Western world, historians have traced the first instance of plant-based milk in a cookbook to 1226, when it appeared in Kitabh al-tabikh, or A Baghdad Cookery Book, with recipes that called for milked “sweet almonds.” The first recorded English-language mention of a plant-based milk was in 1390’s The Forme of Cury, which refers to Almand Mylke.

Consensus seems to have formed around this latest feud and chalked it up to a non-controversy, pointing to the idea that this is all is just Big Dairy’s doing. Besides, there seems to be little agreement on what would even constitute a viable alternative name. This was confirmed by the number of flummoxed responses I received on our Hotline yesterday when I asked what a suitable name would be for these drinks. To a good number of consumers, names like “almond milk” have burrowed themselves so deeply into our cultural vernacular they need no clarification. Peanut butter has no butter; gummy bears aren’t bears.

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Top Comment:
“Those of you concerned about the environment and cruelty should know that it takes hundreds of gallons of water to grow ONE almond, and that a 1/2 gallon of almond milk has, roughly, the "juice" of about 16 almonds. The rest is stabilizers, water,sweeteners, and nutrients to make it as nutrient dense as milk. Now, I understand that there are quite a number out there who can't have dairy--I'm one of them. But I take my lactaid pills and drink away. These alternatives are NOT healthy, just alternatives. Fed my boys soy milk when they were about 10-11 years of age because that was considered "better" than dairy. They grew boobs! And their blood-calcium levels dropped below that needed for growing bones. So, I'm with the dairy council and congress. Milk from animals is milk--the rest is alternative. But give me milk every time, and cheese, and yogurt, and, mac and cheese, and pasta alfredo and..... ”
— judy

So I visited the thesaurus for the word “milk.” Suggestions included cream, half-and-half, and chalk. I’m not sure any of these suffices as a substitute. Buttermilk? Pretty sure that has the word “milk” in it, so that’s a no go. None of these sounded terribly appealing to me, so I asked (okay, I forced) the rest of my editorial team to come up with some alternate names for almond milk, which somehow became the de-facto nut milk of choice for our team. We had a few ideas. I’m just not sure if any of them will really take off.

The dazzlingly uncreative

  • Almond liquid
  • Almond juice
  • Almond water
  • Almond fluid
  • Almond substance
  • Almond milk analog
  • Almond milk replacement
  • Imitation milk
  • Almond milk substitute

The provocative

  • Almond pulp
  • Pulverized almond meat
  • Almond tears
  • Almond sweat
  • Almond hydrate
  • Stomped almonds
  • Liquidated almond mash
  • Almond emulsion
  • Almond filtrate
  • Gray water
  • High-protein water
  • Nutty cloud beverage

The Proper Noun

  • “Just Almond” (or, alternately, “Mostly water”)
  • Almond (Not)Milk
  • Water Streamed Over Almond Meal
  • Almond-in-Water, in the style of Croton-on-Hudson
  • ‘Mond Milk
  • Almondmilk
  • Almwater
  • Almonuice

This post originally ran on January 6, 2017, but we've decided to republish it because the DAIRY Act, as it's called, has just reached Congress. Yesterday, the Good Food Institute lobbied the FDA for the right of plant-based milk manufacturers to call their products milk, so long as those producers are clear about what's actually in the products at hand. In other words, this debate continues to inspire rigorous, impassioned disagreement.

What's your take on this? Should we just keep calling plant milks "milk"? Let us know in the comments.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Amy L. July 22, 2018
Now that the FDA has signaled it's planning to start cracking down on the use of "milk" for plant-based milks (which have been called by this name for centuries longer than the FDA itself has existed), it's time to revisit this issue. Since the dairy industry says it wants to prevent plant-based milks from falsely assuming the "halo" of good health associated with dairy milk, why not give almond and other plant-based milks a name that would make them seem even more heavenly, like almond nectar? (The FDA considers nectar "diluted juice beverage that contains fruit juice or puree, water, and may contain sweeteners"; if you substitute the word "nut" or "legume" for fruit, that's exactly what plant milks are.)
Dow O. July 21, 2018
soymilk, almondmilk, etc. would solve the problem.
Lissa W. July 21, 2018
What about calling it ‘beverage’
Stephen B. July 19, 2018
how about the they market it as "Almond _______" and the consumer writes whatever word they feel is appropriate in the blank
Holly July 16, 2018
I vote for 'mylk.'
Rich O. November 9, 2017
"Don't call it Milk."
Kelly W. March 6, 2017
Apparently you or you wouldn't have to make a comment like that and would not have bothered to read any comments to engage u in making this comment. Move on, if you dont care. But dont be so rude and obnoxious.
claire M. March 5, 2017
Who. Fucking. Cares?
Kelly W. March 4, 2017
After a good nights rest, I have decieded to write congress and suggest that they claim that true milk comes from those small time dairy farms only and that big industry came in last in this area of industry of this type and does not have the right to ownership on the word milk, it is a word just like any other word and if the consumer cant claim a monopoly on their own names, then the dairy industry cant claim a monopoly on the word milk, not even Mr Webster the dictionary can claim words as their monopoly, just the making of the dictionary. Same difference. This is petty and is there to create more trouble for the consumer and more inconvenience for the consumer that is having problems drinking this glorified cow drink and make it harder to afford, harder to find and harder to purchase for low income families and the elderly. Another way to control the populations? I believe it.
Kelly W. March 3, 2017
Well are all nuts nuts? Are all fruits fruits? I think not, tomatoes are sold as vegetables, but they are fruits...Coconut to me is not a nut, but it is colored and shaped and somewhat like a nut...it produces water and u can make a milk out of it...so what would we call that? humans drink breast milk and animal milk is more nutritious why? Some babies cant have the cow based milk, so deny these children the word milk, just because a Dairy industry thinks they should own the work milk...so take away the word milk from anyone who cant drink cow based milk. What about when milk is used as an additive for other foods? They should not be able to claim it as milk, because it is not longer in its true form as liquid that we call milk.
I could go on and on, but those whom refuse to listen or educate themselves will not see reason and those money hungry monsters wont bohter to even try themselves. So why keep going. I said my peace.
Kelly W. March 3, 2017
Everyone has a reaction to something, but it dont affect all others the same way necessarily. And anyone having a reaction to anything related or considered milk product, animal, human or plant based, we all have the right to that product and at a affordable price to all. And what is good for one, is not good for all, what is considered good for all, is not necessarily good for a few or the majority.....Our government is not all knowing and they should not play God. Neither should we get a big head and think we should either. Everyone has a right to call milks milk, whether it is animal, human or plant based. No one knows what one is allergic or have a bad reaction to till it is eaten/drank or taken for a period of time and it reveals itself. If a parent knows what is good for their kids then fine....but they dont know what is good for the kids on the block...only their own. We as parents have the right to chose for our families and ourselves, not the industries or those who are in the dairy business. It is a business of farming...next a corn or wheat farmer cant claim their farmers because they dont raise cows, can't call pigs, llamas, horses, etc. cattle because their not cows. They dont have a monopoly on the words, no one has...but that's what they are asking for...and some of you are falling for this gimmick to give them to the right to make money off the word milk. Don't become their patsy or monkey, we are smarter than that, what is it hurting to call other milks milk that dont come from cows. It is not hurting anyone....and milk consumption has declined before, whats different now? And mabie it should be the cow dairy to change the word they use to describe their liquid...it could be dairy drink. Same difference. They didn't have milk first.....just because humans came after the animals, how would one prove that anyway....it is simply ridiculous and they need to just hush and be happy they still have anyone drinking milk at all.
Kelly W. March 3, 2017
Well, someone suggested Juice as a possible substitute and what makes us think that the fruit industries wont start claiming that juice is from fruit, not from nuts or plants that produce something that looks like milk...we need to stop letting these industries tell us what to do and what they are going to do...put our foot down and demand they follow our rules. We are the all mighty consumer after all, without us they have no industries. We need to do this in a way that they cant turn it back on us....we need to make the government realize how ridiculous this is and how much this can get blown out of proportion and what it could cost the consumer, which is more than the big industries of dairy....Why call it Faux when it is actually real milk, just not cow based. Other animals give off milk, like Camels...are we gonna change the name of that liquid? as well. That milk belongs to that Camel and if that is the milk available to those who raise camels instead of cows, then they have a right to call it milk if they wish to do so.
Oh and to those whom say Cows dairy is more nutrisous than plant based or other milks out there, think again...they hormones they shove in these cows harm our selves and our children. They can stunt thier growth, no not how tall they get, but the growth of thier organs. I know because my kids were having problems and I switched to a milk with out the hormones and be hold it cured their problems, it took several months to straighten them back out...but compared to several years to see it was affecting them, it was a small wait. I would have prefered it not affect them at all, we dont know what long term damage it will do. This is also an additive or something extra that dont have to be added and they dont bother to call it something else besides milk, now do they? We dont know for sure what all they do to that milk. I liked it when we went to the actual dairy and we knew the farmer we were buying from. We knew if it was organic or not and what they gave the cattle. For most neighbors visit with one another and talk about life in general and tell each other things. They even discuss cattle issues with one another. Sometimes it is at the feed store, where alot of us gather at times. And do u ever make hot chocolate, strawberry milk, ice cream and such....well do u call it un nutrious additives? I think not...but it is what it is, and it is an additive to milk.
Also think of what this will do to the prices of the other milks they say are not milk. It could make a low income family not able to afford it and force them to drink what is not good for them and cause health issues and more medical costs they cant afford and raise costs that way as well. The is a larger picture here than that big dairy industry wants you to think about.
It is communism propaganda at best. It is wrong and they have no right to dictate what we can call milk and what we cant. Let them do that and they will not just end with an inch, it could become the holocaust all over again. We are letting others take all our freedoms, one by one by one. Slowly but surely. Milk can come from more than just cows....goats, humans, camels, coconut, pecans, almonds, walnuts, rice, etc.
Humans should sue the diary industries for the right to not call cow juice/water/milk, milk..for breast milk should be the only one to hold the word milk, is this making sense? Well that makes more sense to me than their cause does.
Kelly W. March 3, 2017
The dairy Corps need to realize we dont own the air we breath, it is just as we are, no human should own another human and some english words are just that words, not an object to be owned and if they want to challenge the thought of it, why not try and patient it or register it, etc. This is better than taking the choice away from those of us who have become accustomed to the words Rice milk, Almond milk, goats milk (which by the way is a milk that does not come from cows, but does come from an animal and those allergic to cow's milk deserve a milk of their own and those having bad reactions to lactos in milk also deserve a milk of thier own....and who are those dairy producers anyway to dectate who can call what ...milk anyway. They do not own the sole rights to be a dairy farm, who do they think they are....this makes me want to boycott the Cow dairy farms and spite them and drink plant based milks, but see I cant have Cow diary...I am a diabetic with kidney disease and I have to drink Rice Milk. So what do we call a milk made by Rice, Rice water? it's not clear...it looks like milk, actually tastes like milk....so what is it but milk. ? Dairy farms are striving to make sure they dont lose their livelihood from producing their milk...and in the process they are cutting their nose off in spite of themselves and alienating those who for health and life reasons need these other milks. They will lose money over this trival thing they think is so important. It will back fire in the long run. I will laugh forever when someone comes up with a new name for these substitute milks and blows the dairy industries out of the water with their new name. I would love it, and guess what it is big dairy industries doing this not the small guy diary farmer. Most of these larger industrial dairy farms are not even owned by Americans , but from foreign farm industries that have moved in on our Milk industries and now want the all mighty buck. Cunsumers need to speak loud and clear and stop this stupidity on this matter. Milk is what it is Milk, no matter where it comes from. Mothers breast feeding thier children would not be able to call it breast milk anymore, we would have to change the name because The big Dairy Industries claim they had the milk first.....see how ridiculous this all is.
caninechef March 3, 2017
I suggest fauxmilk as the generic term. But though I don't use them the current usage does not bother me, not in a world that allows the existence of fat free half and half.
PHIL March 3, 2017
Milk consumption has been on a steady decline so they are trying to hold on to market share. More milk is going towards cheese production as cheese consumption is on the rise.
creamtea January 8, 2017
I say "it's almond milk and to hell with it"
creamtea January 8, 2017
BerryBaby January 8, 2017
Almond Beverage.
Rosa January 8, 2017
Almond juice suggests a very different texture.
Rosa January 8, 2017
'Almond mylk' also seems to be popular on vegan food blogs.
Rosa January 8, 2017
Alpro (one of the major almond 'milk' brands in Europe) is already calling the stuff almond DRINK. I'm happy with that, but equally happy with almond milk. Almond milk could however also refer to almond-flavoured dairy milk, whereas almond drink is more clear-cut. But who doesn't know what almond milk is these days...?