We might need to get used to the phrase ‘almond juice’ pretty soon.
There is currently a war being waged between the world’s dairy industries and manufacturers of almond and soy-based “milks”. American, European and Australian farmers have all been pushing to have the word banned from packaging on non-dairy products. Is this fair? Or censorship gone mad? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
US farmers have been fighting for years to get the word “milk” off the likes of almond milk cartons. Meanwhile, makers of non-dairy milks say that being able to call their product what they like is a free speech issue. Now, it looks as though the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to side with the cow milkers.
Both kind of have a point, but it also seems like a silly fight. On the one hand, the FDA commissioner has correctly pointed out that almonds do not lactate. On the other, nobody thought they did.
Meanwhile, in Australia the NSW-based lobby group Dairy Connect is calling for a "truth in labelling" law to stop non-dairy companies from using the word 'milk'. The campaign is backed by farmers of camel, buffalo, sheep and goat milk who believe the ambiguous use of the word by other companies is damaging the industry and misleading consumers.
The word “milk” has long been used to describe whitish liquids that don’t necessarily come from mammary glands. The white fluid made from coconuts — you know, the one that comes in cans and tastes great in Thai curries — is called coconut milk. The thistle plant that oozes a white sap is called milk thistle. So why not almond milk, soy milk, oat milk?
(There is now a coconut-based beverage that sits alongside the soy, almond and rice milks in the grocery store, and it is also called “coconut milk”, which is very confusing.)
But non-dairy milks are often used as a replacement for milk in a culinary sense. We put them on our cereal or in our coffee. Some non-dairy milks are fortified with calcium, and often recommended as a drop-in replacement for dairy milk. In a nod to the ongoing controversy, when the US government does so here, it refers to the drink as “soymilk (soy beverage)”.
Nutritionally, they’re nothing alike, though. Dairy milk has more kilojoules than any of the plant-based milks and way more protein than most of them.
Just like riced cauliflower is not the same as rice, and zucchini noodles are not the same as pasta, plant-based milks are fine foods but not a nutrient-for-nutrient replacement for their namesake.