I know better. I had a light-bulb moment about something I purchase, and it’s a “realization” I can’t find anywhere on the net, so I am really excited to share this with OrganicEater readers! Cartoned almond milk is PASTEURIZED in America. And not just pasteurized, but high heat pasteurized, which is often called ultra pasteurization. You can see on this brand’s website that it is pasteurized. And this brand’s website tells us that ALL of their products are UHT pasteurized, including their soy and coconut milks, which I am deducting is the case for most or all cartoned milks of any kind in the US (but have not yet been able to verify).
So here is my logic:
if I do not usually drink dairy milk because of the pasteurization process (I DO drink raw milk when I can),
and I try to NEVER drink ultra pasteurized dairy milk,
then it only makes sense that I should give up ultra pasteurized almond and coconut (and all the other) milks too.
(if you need to understand why i do not choose pasteurized milk see this link and my good-better-best info).
This dilemma has caused a good bit of stress in my life while trying to research it! It’s tricky and detailed and it was not much fun trying to figure out this pasteurization process and all the terms involved. Different sources had different information, but after many hours, I think I have a pretty good handle on the subject, but am by no means a pasteurization expert, so read all the links for yourself and decide what’s best for you. All information is for American readers. I cannot address the pasteurization processes in other countries, but please let me know if you are familiar with the processes in your country!
Here is the chart I found that was so helpful in describing the different pasteurization processes in the US. There appear to be two different types of ultra pasteurization: one is sold as refrigerated (although I’m not sure it HAS to be, but could not find a definite answer) and the other is “shelf stable” because of the “tetra pak” it’s packaged in, which acts very similar to a can. So shelf stable milk (on the shelves like soup and juice boxes) is very similar to canned milk. You will find information all over the internet that tells you ultra pasteurized milk is “the same milk”, just processed differently. And that may be true, because I have never personally tested the nutritional differences of low heat and high heat pasteurized milk. I also do not know how those tests were conducted or who financed them; likely it was a milk company or dairy association funding the testing. I do not know who funded the tests, but I do know that whoever pays the bills usually gets the answer they’re looking for, so in general, I don’t trust much when it comes to a company telling me their own product is “the same” or “safe”. Call me a skeptic I guess, but my parents taught me to think for myself (and follow the money trail). The statements saying it is “the same” just don’t make sense to me. I often read how cooking food on high heat does all kinds of damage and creates changes in food vs eating it raw. My logic tells me that heating a liquid to between 280 and 302 degrees probably changes things somehow. Heat changes things in this world. How much depends on a lot of factors, but it does change things. I’m gonna go with my gut instinct on this and believe that heating milk so high that it kills all the bad stuff also makes it kill any good stuff that’s in there too, and may also change the protein structure, etc. of the milk itself (yes, I found links to support my belief, and others that didn’t, so I’m not including links here. You can google for yourself. I am just going with my gut on this. And you do not need to post any links in the comments that support UHT milk is “the same”. I saw them already.)
And so, if I believe ultra high heat pasteurization is not a healthy process FOR ME, then I have to apply that same logic to the “healthy” milks I drink, like almond and coconut. Oh, it pains me to have to write this, but I need to change something i have been promoting. I promised myself when I created this blog that I would search for truth and pass it along, even if it contradicted a previously held belief. I am taking a shift on milk alternatives and recommending home-made instead of store-bought for now. I am not saying I will never buy cartoned almond milk again, because convenience is nice, but because we drink so much of it around our house, it’s important for my family to make this shift to home-made. And with this recipe below, it’s gonna be so easy to do it, I have no excuse!
There are at least three other compelling reasons to shift to home-made milks, but they have already been covered by other bloggers whom I follow, so I am simply going to list the reason and the link to their site with lots more info!
1. Synthetic Vitamins are added to cartoned milks. The Healthy Home Economist has a great post on this. I never knew! Now I know, and you can too! I don’t take synthetic vitamins as supplements, so why would I want them in the milk I’m drinking every day?! Ew.
2. Carrageenan and other mysterious things are added to cartoned milk, even the organic ones, and The Food Babe has a great post and this post is even newer, covering that topic. From some other posts I’ve read, carrageenan may not be the absolute worst thing in the world they can add to milk. There are 2 forms of this seaweed extract and supposedly the food grade is OK, and the other one is not. It’s still a little unclear to me just how bad the stuff really is. It does not seem to cause any intestinal problems for my family, but it may for others and I often use the “better safe than sorry” mentality, so it’s pretty easy for me to want to be safe than sorry, and avoid unknown additives in store bought milk, especially for my kids.
3. It’s expensive and hard to find organic! Although, the Food Babe link above regarding carrageenan tells me that buying organic doesn’t make much difference anyway.
And here’s a bonus reason for you guys: did you know that all US commercially grown almonds are pasteurized? Yes, even the “raw” ones. Here is a link and here is another to confirm that statement. If you want truly raw almonds, check those links for how to buy them directly from an almond grower. If you buy “raw almonds” from a store that are grown in the US, you need to ask them how their almonds are pasteurized! There is a water/steam method and a chemical (PPO) method. I have asked Trader Joes, and they use the steam method on their almonds. I hope they told me the truth. If you buy organic “raw” almonds, they will likely be pasteurized with water as well. I am not positive the USDA standards require steam pasteurization, but it seems logical with what I know about organic policy. And that makes me wonder: are all raw almond butters not truly raw because of this pasteurization policy??? (sometimes I wish I could UN-know some stuff) So, here is my logic again… are almonds pasteurized as plain almonds first, and then ultra pasteurized again after being made into milk , making them twice pasteurized and twice “dead”? These are the things that keep me up at night, but I have not had time to find the answers yet.
OH! One more bonus reason to forego the shelf stable UHT milk: Tetra paks are lined with plastic. They are BPA free (yay!) but they still have a plastic coating inside, and they have a metal (like a tin can) sheet within the paper packaging. It does not touch the food, but it is there. Just something to consider if “canned foods” are not your first choice.
I already had those great reasons above for making the switch to home-made milks, but those had not yet convinced me completely (can you say “hard-headed”?!). Now that I’ve realized the UHT pasteurization process too, that was the deal breaker for me. And while we are on the topic, I am also expanding this logic to ALL shelf stable products like juice, soup, creamers, and the myriad of other products available out there as “shelf stable”. It is my understanding at this point, that all Tetra Pak shelf stable products must undergo the UHT Ultra Pasteurization process in order to kill all possible pathogens and increase their shelf life. That’s called “processed food” by my definition, and I try to avoid processed foods. There may be an emergency situation where I may need to make that purchase; I never want to be a food nazi, but I will be generally avoiding them until I learn new information. I’m curious if others will feel the same after reading this post. Please let me know your thoughts. And if anyone is a Tetra Pak expert and can confirm that not all shelf stable foods are UHT processed, please let me know that. That sparks another thought: have ALL canned foods been pasteurized or sterilized at some level? I’m thinking that’s a yes, and another reason to avoid canned foods in general. And I do not know the differences between home canning compared to UHT Pasteurization, but I bet I have some canning expert friends who can give me some more details on that. And even if the processes were the same (but I don’t think they are), home canning is done in glass rather than a can or a plastic lined tetra pak. Oh dear, more rabbit trails for me to explore…. the more I learn the more I realize I do not know……. I need some experts to weigh in on this.
There will probably be someone reading this who will say, ‘but I think it tastes the same, and what about the convenience of it and the way it saves me money because of the long expiration date?’ If those are your reasons for buying a food, that is your choice. Those reasons do not persuade me to purchase. In the least. I completely understand how they convince a manufacturer to produce it, but they don’t hold much value for me to purchase it as a consumer. The “benefit” is all theirs in my opinion.
So, the title said I have a hilariously easy home-made almond milk recipe for you, and I was not exaggerating. Try this easy, quick, and cheap recipe for home-made almond milk, that does not even require a high-speed blender! You will laugh at the simplicity of it! And here is another recipe from Whole New Mom, that will use almonds to make it. My real food friend Jon, at Nutrition You Can Trust, has nut milk recipes for several kinds of nuts, that you may find helpful. If you have nut allergies, here is a home made coconut milk recipe for you to use!
All the best to you as you educate yourself on the many challenges of being a real food shopper!! I know those aisles can be tough! Keep reading and learning by signing up for the OE email subscription (on the home page) so you won’t miss a thing! And contact me if you need more help!