A couple months ago, our senior social media manager Kaitlin Bray casually mentioned her homemade cashew milk. No soaking. No straining. Just add cashews and water to a blender—“but I do it in a Vitamix, which I think is key”—and buzz, buzz, buzz. That’s it! What’s the big deal?
I never knew nut milk could be so chill. Most recipes I’ve crossed paths with advocate for—even insist upon—overnight soaking and cheesecloth straining, which are more than enough for me to forget from scratch and buy premade nut milk instead. (Recipe developers are people, too!)
Eventually, I forgot the premade nut milk, too, and opted for its soybean counterpart. Because no matter the brand, I always found these more flavorful, more reliable. Commercial almond and cashew milks promise a lot—I love almonds! I looove cashews!—but deliver little. They can be watery and diluted and bland, like ending up with skim milk when you thought you were getting whole.
But maybe homemade nut milk isn’t fussy after all! I put it to the test: Does soaking make a difference? Is a Vitamix really key? And what about straining? The results may shock you. (I said may!)
Does soaking boost nutritional value?
Some recipes seem to think so. As I fell further and further down my cashew milk rabbit hole, I kept reading about digestibility and enzymes and nutritional value, all hinging on whether you do or don’t soak. Could this be? I checked in with Food52 contributor (and certified nutritionist and all-around vegan recipe goddess) Gena Hamshaw and asked: What’s the deal?
“Soaking can help to reduce the phytates in cashews and other nuts. Phytates block absorption of minerals such as zinc and iron, so soaking and dehydrating or soaking and rinsing nuts before consuming them can make a portion of the mineral content more bioavailable.”
But just how much our bodies absorb is hard to say. In other words, soaking “may have some benefit for mineral absorption, but it may also not be necessary, if you’re eating a well-rounded and nutritious diet.”
Gena’s personal preference, it turns out, isn’t related to nutrition but, rather, consistency. She is Team Soak, “for smoother texture and blending.” A perfect transition to our next question...
Does soaking really improve the texture?
I tested and tasted three batches of cashew milks: same nut-to-water ratios (more on this soon!), different soaking lengths. Here’s what happened:
- Unsoaked. Who knew cashew milk could be so delicious? This is rich, creamy, and nutty. I love it. I want to stop my search right here, right now. I’ve found my prince!
- Soaked: 4 hours. This is good, too! Different? Maybe? Fuller mouthfeel? Maybe? I drink the unsoaked and 4-hour-soaked back and forth, back and forth, and have entirely lost track of which is which.
- Soaked: 8 hours (a.k.a., overnight). There’s a more noticeable difference between this and the unsoaked—but it’s still subtle. I see where Gena’s coming from: It is smoother. And it has a richer, more rounded consistency. But I also see where Kaitlin’s coming from: I have to analyze, a lot, to come to this conclusion. In other words, if you have the forethought and time to soak, why not? And if you don’t, no big deal. Everyone wins!
P.S. None of this was done with a Vitamix. And all turned out great. Which isn’t to say that I don’t want a Vitamix if someone wants to get me one for my birthday in T-minus three months! But if you don’t have one, you can still make the cashew milk of your dreams.
I’m not one to keep cheesecloth lying around—though I aspire to! For now, I always have a trusty fine-mesh sieve, which comes in handy for everything from canned chickpea draining to pastry cream smoothing to nut milk straining. Well, it didn’t actually come in handy here:
I strained each batch of nut milk and compared the pre-strained and post-strained version. At first, I had trouble telling who was who. Mary-Kate? Ashley? Ashley? Mary-Kate? Then, the more I tasted, the more I started to wonder something sort of crazy: Is it possible that the unstrained cashew milk is smoother and creamier and, well, better?
There’s only one way to find out: taste the nut pulp. (I hate the sound of this, too, but there’s no other way to describe it!) I took a teeny, tiny nibble of the nut purée caught in the strainer, to see what we were weeding out with all this straining, and it was...actually not that bad. Instead of being nubby and gritty, it was tender and mushy. Which leads me to the following cashew milk theory: This “unwanted” bulk actually rounds out the milk.
Conclusion: Don’t strain. Or do. It doesn’t make a huge difference. But if I can save a few minutes and one dirty dish and add more fullness, I’ll be leaving my strainer in the cabinet. Just make sure that you give your bottle a real good shake before pouring and using.
When Kaitlin and I debriefed about our cashew milk adventures, we were
appalled surprised by each other’s nut-to-water ratios. I did 1 cup cashews to 4 cups water—the most common ratio from my research. Meanwhile, the woman who inspired all my cashew milk making does 1:6. Whoa. On the other end of the spectrum, some go as low as 1:3. The gist is: The less water, the thicker and creamier the result. Kaitlin says her ratio “makes it the same consistency as 2% milk.” Mine gets closer to whole milk. You do you.
Blending 1 cup nuts and 4 cups water yields about 5 cups cashew milk. I always add a pinch of salt—and usually nothing else—but play around and see what happens. You could add…
- Sweetener. Maple syrup, agave syrup, sorghum syrup, honey. White sugar, brown sugar. Even dried fruit, especially dates.
- Extract. Give your good friends vanilla and almond a call.
- Spices. Take a cue from horchata and add a cinnamon stick to the mix. Or just a pinch of ground cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg.
- Chocolate! For a vegan take on chocolate milk, add unsweetened cocoa powder to the blender. Sweetener highly recommended here!
Have you ever made cashew milk before? Tell us about the recipe in the comments!
The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).Order now