There are some food that I will never attempt to DIY: cereal, yogurt, my favorite seedy sourdough (sadly, my starter died of neglect months ago.) Still, there are other grocery list staples that I will never buy again. Fluffy hummus, crunchy, steaming English muffins, and almond milk that’s creamier—and way more flavorful—than my go-to tetra pack. But not all homemade almond milk is created equal. It can be gritty, bitter, or watery if made wrong. As a lifelong lactose intolerant, I’ve garnered my fair share of tips for the absolute best almond milk at home. Follow these steps and you may never want to go back to the store-bought stuff.
Back to Basics
Let’s start with the basics: the nuts themselves. You must start with skin-on, raw, unsalted almonds. But I already have a bulk bag of salted, roasted almonds from Costco! I know, I know, but save those for snacking. To get a subtly sweet, ultra-creamy final product, raw nuts are paramount. Soaking roasted nuts brings out their bitterness, and because they’re drier to begin with, they yield a gritty milk. (Soaking nuts also won’t remove any flavors, so unless you want Thai chili- or salt & vinegar-flavored almond milk, use unseasoned almonds.) Another reminder: Nuts are full of oil and can go rancid at room temperature; unsurprisingly, rancid almonds will make sour almond milk. Before you put the effort in, do yourself a favor and taste one to ensure the nuts are fresh, especially if they've been in your pantry for a while.
Go for a Soak
Now that you’ve got your nuts, it’s time to give them a nice long bath. As is the case with all nut milks, almond milk starts with a soak. The ideal ratio is 4 cups of water to 1 cup nuts. Though tap water is probably fine, since the soaking water is also the liquid component of this almond milk, I’d recommend filtered water for the best-tasting final product. Soak them in the fridge in a bowl, reusable container, or directly in the pitcher of your blender, since you'll be using that later.
Soaking nuts allows them to absorb water and hydrate from the inside out so that they blend into a smoother final product. Soaking them thoroughly will also yield more liquid (almond milk) and less pulp (almond meal—but more on that in a bit). My general rule of thumb is to soak almonds for at least 12 hours and up to 48 hours—any longer and your almonds may start to spoil or sprout. The easiest way to do it is simply to set up the soak before bed and let them sit overnight. You’ll have creamy, dreamy almond milk just in time for your morning cup of coffee.
Some say you can cut the soaking time down to a few hours by using boiling or very hot water; Others claim you can skip the soak entirely by blending nuts with very hot water. I have tried both and still find the longer you soak, the creamier the milk. Short soaks make creamy enough milk, but we’re going for the creamiest possible milk.
Blend and Strain
My personal adaptation of Legally Blonde’s “bend and snap.” (not sure if it’s an 83 percent return rate, but my DIY almond milk has certainly landed me a brunch invitation.) Transfer the nuts and the water to a large blender or food processor (it’s best to use the most powerful tool you have for this job), and process on high speed for several minutes. If using a high-powered blender it’ll take about two minutes; in a lower-power blender or food processor give it up to three or four minutes. Well-blended almond milk should look opaque and uniform, and the nuts completely pureed. For security, scrape down the sides of the blender with a spatula and blend for another minute.
Once you have a homogenous mixture, set a colander or mesh sieve on top of a large bowl. Fold a big piece of cheesecloth so that you have a sheet made up of at least 3-4 layers, or use an open nut milk bag and place it on top of your colander. (Though the bags are washable and easy to find I prefer to use cheesecloth because I typically already have it on hand.) Pour over the almond milk, letting the liquid drain through the cloth- or bag-lined colander into the bowl below. Once it’s stopped draining, gather the edges of the cheesecloth or nut milk bag and squeeze to extract as much liquid as possible.
Whatever you do, don’t throw out the stuff left in the cloth, also known as almond pulp. It’s very similar to almond meal (coarsely ground almond flour made from raw almonds that’s often called for in recipes, like this tender cake), which you can replicate most closely by dehydrating and then blending the pulp. I like to follow Minimalist Baker’s guide for the most technical example, but if that’s too much effort you can also just add the pulp directly to this granola, blend a spoonful into smoothies for a bit of nutty flavor, or add it to homemade crackers like these by swapping pulp for cornmeal.
Sweeten the Deal
Now you have a super-creamy, albeit fairly simple, almond milk. Think of almond milk as a blank canvas, yourself an artist preparing to make a masterpiece: Get creative and experiment with spices, sweeteners, and flavorings. I nearly always start by blending in a half teaspoon vanilla extract, plus a pinch of salt to accentuate the almonds’ natural sweetness. For sweetened milk, I like to blend in two pitted Medjool dates or 1-2 tablespoons of maple syrup, honey, or agave syrup. Taste the milk, then add more until it’s sweetened to your preference. I also like to add 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, plus a dash of cardamom or nutmeg for nuance. Pro tip I learned from Carla Lalli Music: You can actually flavor your almond milk before you blend by adding spices and sweeteners to the soaking liquid. Lalli Music adds cinnamon sticks or whole pitted dates to the water when preparing the nuts to soak. By the time you blend the milk, it’s deeply infused with flavor.
You've now made almond milk so delicious you can (and should!) drink a glass of it simply as is. It’s also a great base for smoothies, baked oatmeal, or any plant-based recipes you’re cooking. I love to use it in overnight oats or my favorite chia seed pudding. Add it to your morning coffee or matcha, or if you’re not a caffeine-drinker, add turmeric and spices to make a warming golden milk latte (or smoothie!. You can also leave the almond milk plain, unsweetened and unflavored, and use it to ‘veganize’ any savory recipes, like rich pasta sauces and creamy soups.
Transfer your almond milk to a jar or pitcher and store in the fridge. Homemade almond milk lacks emulsifiers that keep commercially-produced nut milks homogenized. Fat and oil famously do not mix, so it’s natural for DIY almond milk to separate. Always give it a good shake or stir before using. Also, without added stabilizers it will last about 2-3 days in the fridge so with that in mind, only make as much as you’ll use in that time.
One final note: As far as nuts and other ingredients used to make non-dairy milk go, almonds are one of the most taxing on the environment. While they still pale in comparison to the environmental impact of cow’s milk, almonds do require more water to produce than crops like oat or soy. and ultimately have a bigger footprint than other alternative milks. For that reason, when I make nut milk I like to mix various nuts like cashews, hazelnuts, pecans—really whichever nuts were on sale at the store. I also try to opt for organic when I can, since growing without pesticide is better for the environment (and the bees!) The technique stays the same, so go forth on your nut milk adventure, and don’t be afraid to experiment. I like playing around to find my favorite combinations for the best taste and maximum creaminess. Any way you make it, you're bound to end up with something delicious—and likely, no trip to the grocery store is required.
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