I always thought that milk was a substance that was excreted by special glands of mammals which was used to feed their young. Or, in the case of some types of cattle, to make yummy, yummy cheese (1).
But apparently what I learned in school is wrong, because if you look through the dairy section of the grocery store these days you’ll find out that you can apparently milk a lot of different things. You’ll find almond milk, soybean milk, rice milk, coconut milk, milk stout… One quickly gets the impression that just about anything can be milked. And judging from the prices on this stuff, one quickly discovers that what is really getting milked is the consumer.
So, the question is, is this stuff, these various liquids derived in one way or another from non-mammalian sources, really “milk”?
Of course it isn’t. And some people are getting a wee bit irritated by all of these people calling a product that is basically nothing more than water, thickening agents, flavoring agents and a ground up vitamin pill “milk”. Like these people here. This is a communication from an assortment of Congresspersons to the FDA politely pointing out that calling what is basically some type of nut flavored water, ‘milk’ is grossly misleading, inaccurate and even deceptive.
What’s especially irritating about these various “milks” is that while they are heavily advertised as being nutritional powerhouses, that they are healthier for you than real milk and are more ‘natural’ somehow, they pretty much aren’t.
Let’s look at almond milk. Now there is no doubt that almonds are good for you. Lots and lots of nutritional value and they’re pretty damned tasty. But almond milk? Ah, well, about that…
There are very few almonds actually in commercial almond milk. If you start scrounging around Google you’ll quickly find out that a lot of these almond milks are mostly water, various additives and flavoring agents, and very few actual almonds. Many of them contain only 2% actual almonds. Two cups of almond milk will have, if you’re lucky, maybe 9 actual almonds in it. If you don’t believe me, go look it up yourself. I’ll wait… Ah, back, are we? Good. Let’s get on with this, then.
A year or so ago, a couple of makers of almond milk were being sued in New York because their “almond milk” had only 2% actual almonds in it. It’s basically just almond flavored water with lots and lots of additives. Their argument was that calling something “almond” anything when the product has only 2% almonds in it is wildly misleading.
Then there is the problem of the other ingredients in the stuff. If you read the ingredients labels on most almond milks and similar products, it reads like a high school chemistry experiment. Various gums and thickeners, flavoring agents, salt, sugar and vitamins are added to the stuff. Basically it’s little more than water with thickening agents, flavorings, colorings and a ground up vitamin pill in it, with a bit of almond flavoring.
Now I have nothing against chemicals(2). Everything is chemicals, really. Chemicals are nothing but the basic components of, well, everything. But when you’re buying something labeled “almond milk” wouldn’t you want, well, almond milk, and not something that’s 2% almonds, 8% thickening agents, salt, sugar, flavoring agents and added vitamins, and the rest water?
They have to add all that stuff because when you soak a bunch of nuts in a vat of water, very, very little of the nuts’ actual nutritional content ends up in the water. Neither does flavor. Also the resulting ‘milk’ looks a bit like thin, cloudy water with some sludge on the bottom. So vitamins have to be added to make the stuff seem healthy. Thickeners have to be added to make it look more like real milk and less like, well, water. Flavoring has to be added to make it taste like something.
So, is it legally “milk”, this stuff? Under FDA rules and regulations that I’ve been able to find, the answer is no. Under FDA rules and regulations, milk is defined as “the normal lacteal secretion, practically free of colostrum, obtained from the milking of hooved mammals.” If you want to wade through all of the legalspeak and other nonsense, you can do so here at the FDA’s regulatory information site.
But that’s simplifying things enormously because definitions of terms is a strange and arcane branch of law and when it comes right down to it no one seems to know for sure.
So why don’t they just call it, oh, nut juice, then?
Well, they can’t do that because it isn’t. In order to be labeled ‘juice’ it has to be mostly the juice of the item on the label, and most of these “milks” contain less than 5% (in some cases 2%) of the nut listed on the label.
So is this stuff “milk”? No. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It resembles actual milk only because it is highly processed and has a variety of thickening agents, emulsifiers, colorings and other additives mixed it. It is nutritionally beneficial only in that it has vitamins and minerals from external sources added to it.
- Or the infamous Peruvian Beaver Cheese. And the less said about that, the better.
- Mmm — yummy yummy chemicals…