An additive free guide to buying almond milk

This guide was created on the back of an AFK Community members question.

Do you ever ask what milk a cafe uses if you don’t use dairy? More and more cafes (in Queensland) seem to be using Milk Lab. This is the almond milk. Doesn’t look impressive

Based on the conversation that followed I was asked which brands would I recommend. I shared with the AFK Community that I always ask what brand of milk a cafe uses when I am out and about.

Whilst I would prefer to have an almond milk, the reality is that most cafes use almond milks that are laden with additives. I often make the choice to go back to dairy as it is the better alternative in terms of additives! Crazy isn’t it!

Unfortunately, the reality is that these barista blends as you will see have been formulated to ensure the best froth without taking health into account.

AFK Community favourite plant based milk

As you know there are soooooo many different options and products on the supermarket shelves. The AFK Community voted as to which was their preferred plant based milks. The results were:

Almond 51.2%
Coconut 22.5%
Rice 10.0%
Oat 8.3%
Soy 7.6%
Macadamia 0.4%

So with almond milk being the most popular by far, I set out to review over 30 different types of almond milk.

Is your almond milk laden with additives?

Reviewing these ingredients is always so interesting, especially when it initially appears to be a product with very few ingredients. I will tell you that there were over 40 different ingredients used across these 30 different almond milks!!

Across the 30 different almond milks I reviewed, over 40 different ingredients were used!

Please note – this is not an exhaustive list. This list represents the most popular brands as voted by the AFK Community. These rankings are based on my opinion and experience of reviewing ingredient only.


What ingredients should you expect to find in your almond milk?

Typical ingredients:

Water

Almonds

Salt

Sweetener (if its your preference)

These are the ingredients that you would use at home if you were going to make almond milk.

Examples of the ingredients I came across in the review:

Water

Water or filtered water

Almonds

Organic activated almonds
Organic almonds
Pesticide free almonds
Activated almonds
Almonds

Starches

Organic brown rice
Tapioca starch
Maltodextrin

Sweeteners

Organic agave syrup
Organic rice syrup
Organic sugar
Raw sugar
Cane sugar
Medjool dates

Salt

Murray River Salt
Sea salt
Salt

Oils

Organic sunflower oil
Sunflower oil

Anticaking agents

Calcium carbonate
Sodium bicarbonate

Acidity regulators

Ascorbic acid
Lecithin
Potassium citrate
Potassium phosphate
Calcium phosphate

Gums

Carrageenan
Locust bean gum
Xanthan gum
Gellan gum
Cellulose
Sodium carboxymethylcellullose

Flavourings

Natural vanilla flavour
Natural flavour
Natural almond essence
Flavourings

Vitamins

Calcium
Vitamins B12
Vitamins B2
Vitamins B1

What do you think when you see this list of ingredients?

We need to start questioning are these ingredients there for our benefit or the manufacturers?

Are the ingredients there for your benefit of the manufacturers?

What do you need to consider when buying almond milk?

Everyone has a ton of different filters and criteria that they shop for. Lets look at some of the main categories in turn:

Water

Given most of the almond milk products are made from water, you may want to consider whether the water they are using is filtered or not.

Safe drinking water requires additives that you can usually taste in the water – such as chlorine, ammonia and fluoride. There is a lot of debate about these additives, however, most of the authorities believe that using the chemicals outweigh potential risks. Filtered water eliminates the contaminations.

Almonds

Normal, pesticide or organic almonds?

Next is the choice of almonds – normal, pesticide free or organic? Organic usually means that they are sustainably grown and processed without the use of any artificial inputs. You would want to check that they have certification. Pesticide free isn’t a strictly defined term. However, it usually means that farmers don’t apply synthetic herbicides, insecticides or their crops. Normal almonds would be grown using pesticides.

Activated or not?

Some almonds used are activated. Activating almonds requires pre soaking the almonds and allows them to be more easily digested.

Percentage of almonds used?

The other important thing to look out for when choosing an almond milk is the percentage of almonds used. In this review we have a range of 2% – 18%. You often get what you pay for. You will usually find the lower the almond percentage is, the higher the additives (gums for example) are to make the product appear thicker than it is.

Sweeteners

When it comes to sweeteners it is important to consider how processed the sweetener is. How close to its original source is it? Some of your sweeteners included in these almond milks are ultra processed.

If we look at organic rice syrup the process is usually: culturing rice with enzymes to breakdown the starches. They then strain off the liquid and reduce it by evaporating heating until the desired consistency is reached. What are these enzymes? Often they will add sprouted barley grains to the rice starch (if using a traditional method) or they will add bacterial or fungal derived purified enzyme isolates (the modern industrial method).

I have tried to find out more information from some of the suppliers regarding how the rice syrup has been made. I received answers such as “we are unable to share any more information around the process, as this is related to our IP”

For those that have followed Additive Free Kids for a while, real ingredients don’t need intellectual property protection. As a result I have classified this ingredient as highly processed in my review.

Gums

So many different types of gums are used in the products with low percentage of almonds! These include Carrageenan, Locust bean gum, Xanthan gum, Gellan gum.

Why are these added to almond milks?

You can see that the products that use a higher percentage of almonds don’t require these ingredients. Carrageenan for example is used to thicken, stabilise or give a gelling consistency. This particular additive should be avoided for those that are sensitive to MSG. You will see manufacturers starting to distinguish their products as carrageenan free. With most of these gums they are a highly processed ingredient.

What you need to remember and consider – are these gums in the product for your benefit or the manufacturer’s?

Flavourings

Whilst most of the flavourings added are natural flavourings or almond essence flavouring sound benign, we know that natural flavourings aren’t any better than artificial flavourings. Read our blog: What are natural flavours and should you avoid them here to learn more about natural flavours.

Again, there is a correlation evident – the lower the percentage of almonds, the higher the presence of gums and flavourings.

Extracts

You need to keep an eye out for extracts – in the case of almond milk, vanilla extract. I’d love to share with you an example of what I discovered whilst reviewing Nuts by Nature Mylk almond milks.

Looking at the ingredients list on first glance looked good. However, I know with all my experience of reviewing tens of thousands of products and ingredients lists that vanilla extract isn’t always what you think it is. There are so many different forms. They aren’t all equal.

When I asked Jason if he could provide me more information on the vanilla extract that was used, he was more than willing and quickly sent it through.

When I dug down to the next level of ingredient review, it uncovered that the vanilla extract had the following ingredients:

Vanilla bean extractives (40%)
Vegetable based glycerin
Sucrose
Xanthan Gum
Natural flavour
Natural caramel colour
Water


As you can see in this one ingredient that is listed on the label, there are another 7 ingredients that sit behind it!! When you read this list, it conjures up very different images to that of a vanilla bean.

Jason was horrified.

Here he was trying to make an amazingly clean product and it was let down by this vanilla bean extract.

The vanilla bean extract was sold as:

“an essential product for any baker, providing a natural and convenient way to flavour your favourite recipes. This versatile extract creates a rich scent of vanilla. Natural, unique and undeniably delicious”

As you will see in the rankings below, Nuts by Nature Mylk is ranked harshly for all these additional ingredients hiding in the vanilla extract. It seems so unfair when Jason was trying to do the right thing!

Not all is lost though!

Jason being such a passionate man about clean ingredients, healthy living and a barista, he was on the phone to me straight away. This vanilla extract will be removed in the near future – and the product will be a 100% Almond Mylk Base, including the barista option (see more below). Once this product is released I will update the rankings below to reflect the change of ingredients.

Vitamins

Some people are basing their purchasing decision based on whether their almond milk contains vitamins.

What I need you to think about is….these vitamins are usually synthetic.

Synthetic vitamins are usually isolated nutrients and are usually made artificially using industrial processes. Ideally if you are wanting to supplement with vitamins you would want to look out for whole food supplements. These are usually concentrated, dehydrated whole foods.

Natural supplements will list food sources or are labelled as 100% plant or animal based. If you see nutrients listed individually such as Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), Vitamin B2 etc these are likely to be synthetic. Most of the vitamins listed in this almond milk review are listed individually.

Your body reacts differently depending whether you are using natural or synthetic vitamins. When you are eating whole foods, that whole food comes with a lovely range of vitamins, minerals, co-factors and enzymes. These ensure optimal use by your body. By isolating the nutrients away from these additional compounds they are unlikely to be used by the body in the same was as natural nutrients.

So ideally, you would want to be getting your nutrients from whole food sources. Synthetic vitamins shouldn’t replace a healthy balanced diet.

These are just the considerations I go through when ranking the almond milk ingredients. These rankings are my opinion only. You will need to determine what is most important for you and what you value most. Let’s get ranking….I know you are keen to see the results.

This guide ranks almond milks according to additive impact and the degree of processing of ingredients. These are NOT all additive free.

You will see that I have ranked the almond milks into 4 categories:

AVOID

These almond milks contain some or all of the following ingredients: flavourings, anti caking agents, gums, synthetic vitamins and acidity regulators.

OK

These almond milks contain some of the following ingredients:
anti caking agents, gums, synthetic vitamins and acidity regulators.

BETTER

These almond milks contain some of all of the following ingredients: gums, and highly processed ingredients

BEST

These almond milks are completely clean and free of additives.

How does your almond milk rank?

Almond milks – AVOID

Almond milks – OK

Almond milks – BETTER

Almond milks – BEST

Additional observations from my review

Cleaner labels – Some of brands will try and clean up their ingredients label to sound better than it is and will shy away from using additive numbers.

Manufacturers get caught out too – some times manufacturers are duped too (as we saw with vanilla extract), even when they are trying to do the right thing and create a superbly clean product. They are sold a product and told its all natural. The devil is in the detail!

Fresh is best – when looking at milks in the supermarket – the highest quality product, with the highest concentration of almonds has the shortest shelf life. The lower the concentration of almonds, the higher the amount of additives, the longer the shelf life.

Organic doesn’t equal additive free – just because a product is organic it doesn’t mean it is additive free or free from ultra processed ingredients

The importance of froth – obviously some of these milks will froth better than others. They have been designed to do so. They have added gums and other additives to facilitate this. Just before I was about to publish this blog I became aware of another product that will be 100% almonds and capable of great froth too.

It has been made by a barista for baristas.

Most almond milks will separate in your coffee if they don’t have additives. This product, won’t separate with your typical flat whites or coffees that are mostly milk. I am going to check it out next week and let you know what I think (by the way I’m not a coffee drinker! I will test it out with my chai).

Whilst at the moment this product contains the vanilla extract, when it is removed, I bet its going to be the best new upcoming product for baristas.

It ticks a lot of boxes:
– no almond waste (except the skin) – the whole almond is used.
– reduction in carton wastage (1 container gives 66 serves as opposed to a traditional 1 litre container that may give 4-5).
– use when needed – no extra wastage with milk going off if not used in time, has a one year shelf life.

I will update the blog and let you know when it is released.

In short, keep in mind the following when buying almond milks

Keep it simple….the simpler the better!

Consider how processed the ingredients are.

Would you use these ingredients in your panty?

Have your say:

Chat to your local cafes, ask them if they would consider stocking one of the brands with less additives. Remember they want your repeat business – most will be happy to make their customers happy! Support the cafes that are stocking the products you love.

All the hard work done for you…

As you can see it takes a lot of time and effort to review each ingredient in every product. Something the typical consumer just doesn’t have time to do. Big Food manufacturers are relying on this. They know you are time poor. They know you love convenience. It is hard and time consuming.

Here at Additive Free Kids, we want to empower each consumer to vote with their dollar every day. To help them, we have created an  Additive Free Marketplace Directory where every product has been screened for you. To save you time! To help you vote with your dollar.

Which almond milk vote will you be making at the supermarket next time you visit?

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Frankie Bell - Additive Free Kids



Frankie Bell is the Managing Director of Additive Free Kids, a food coach, mentor and is one of Australia’s leading activists against additives in foods.  

Frankie is a mum to 5 boys and has personal experience working through the damaging effects of additives to resolve the multiple health issues and behavioural problems in her own children.  It became Frankie’s purpose to help other families achieve the same improvements for their families. 

These changes can be overwhelming, especially for time poor parents, Frankie has done all the hard work for families to ensure they have access to additive free food, anytime, anywhere.    Additive Free Kids specialises in assisting families to live healthy lives free from additives.  See how you can work together with Frankie here.