When I was in a local supermarket last week, I picked up a carton of Alpro Roasted Almond (unsweetened). I noticed, on the packaging, an image of a white liquid, very much like milk, gushing from a split almond and wondered, could it be milk?
I looked carefully at the ingredients listed on the back of the carton – water, Almond (stamped in bold letters, perhaps to remind shoppers that the 2.3% inclusion of said ingredient was key to the identity of the product), Sea Salt, Stabilisers, Emulsifier, Vitamins and Natural flavouring. But, no sign of any milk. Reading on, I was further confused by a line underneath the list of ingredients that said “May contain traces of nuts (no peanuts)”. Hang on a minute, “traces of nuts”; aren’t almonds nuts? Well, no, it turns out they are not; my hasty research tells me they are a seed. Apparently, the fruit of the almond tree is called a ‘drupe’, which has a hard outer shell containing a seed, which is not a true nut.
The Alpro website describes its Roasted Almond product as “comforting and full of nuttiness, like a hug in a cereal bowl”. That sounds like a potentially abrasive encounter and my almond research suggests this message should perhaps be amended to say “comforting and full of seediness”. But that conjures up images of something rather more intimate than a hug in a cereal bowl. Hurriedly returning to my hunt for the origins of the white stuff flowing from the split almond, on the front of the carton, I discovered more information on the back stating “Not suitable as a main milk drink for children under 3”. So it is milk then? No, hang on, EU law now prevents plant-based drinks being called ‘milk’, which surely means it isn’t suitable for persons over the age of three either, as a main milk drink or even an occasional tipple?
I’m sorry if this all appears very confusing but there is more. Many drinks like Alpro Roasted Almond are now widely referred to as plant-based alternatives (alternatives to milk). However, when a product is ‘based’ on something, it suggests to me that the something is the primary ingredient, making up the biggest part of the product. So, shouldn’t plants be the main component of plant-based drinks? I could see that there was 2.3% plant matter, in the form of almonds, in the Roasted Almond product I picked up and, so, I looked around to see whether there was any more plant material involved.
I could see that Alpro Roasted Almond contains Locust bean gum and rather hoped this gum came from plants and not insects. It turns out that this is indeed a plant derivative; it’s a thickening and gelling agent widely used in food technology, which comes from the seeds of the Carob tree. What about Sunflower lecithin? That was on the ingredients list too. Well, this is plant too; a fatty substance derived from Sunflower seeds, which is used in food technology to give foods a creamy, smooth texture.
To be honest, I don’t know how much total plant matter there is in drinks like Alpro Roasted Almond, but this leads me to question whether they are truly plant-based. Could it be that water is the biggest component of such products? Do drinks like this belong in the flavoured water category? I would like to put forward the hypothesis that milk from dairy cows is a true plant-based drink, based on the following. Cows are ruminants, which thrive on an almost entirely plant-based diet, save for the inclusion of some mineral and vitamin supplements. They are the processors of an amazing natural product, turning green plant material, which we cannot digest, into a nutrient-rich, white liquid we call milk. The cows are not fed thickening agents and there is no need for a dose of Sunflower lecithin, as their product has a natural creamy and smooth texture.
Next time you are out shopping pick up a bottle of real milk and take a look at the list of ingredients. You’ll discover that, in actual fact, there aren’t any. You see, milk is just milk, produced by nature’s greatest plant eaters. That’s why we should all be proud of dairy.