Milk is a basic food in many cultures throughout the world. However, dairy can significantly add to our food’s greenhouse gas emissions. It accounts for just over a quarter of the carbon footprint in normal EU diets, and up to one-third in some cases. 1
As people become more aware of this, they are turning to plant-based alternatives. Non-dairy milks are currently consumed by one-quarter of adults in the United Kingdom, according to polls (although not always exclusively). It’s much more popular among younger people, with one-third of 16 to 23-year-olds choosing it. 2
Soy, oat, almond, rice, and coconut milk are among the ‘plant-based’ milk replacements now available. This begs two questions: are plant-based milks truly better for the environment, and which is the best?
We compare milks on a number of environmental criteria in this graph, including land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and eutrophication, or the pollution of ecosystems with excess nutrients. These are measured in milliliters of milk. 3 I discuss some of the differences in nutritional content of different milks at the end of this post, which are crucial to consider in particular groups.
Across all criteria, cow’s milk has a significantly bigger impact than plant-based alternatives. It produces three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, consumes ten times the amount of land, utilizes two to twenty times the amount of freshwater, and results in significantly greater levels of eutrophication.
Switching to plant-based alternatives is a fantastic option if you want to lessen your diet’s environmental impact.
Which vegan milk is the best? It all depends on the impact we’re most concerned with. Almond milk emits less greenhouse gases and takes up less land than soy milk, but it requires more water and contributes to eutrophication.
Although all of the options have a smaller environmental impact than dairy, there is no obvious winner across the board.
Cow milk versus almond milk: which is worse for the environment?
As we just indicated above, when it comes to water use, almond’s favorable environmental reputation is jeopardized. According to a study, whole milk uses 307 liters of freshwater every 48 ounces, while unsweetened almond milk uses 175 liters per 48 ounces.
Another study came to the same conclusion: almond milk production requires roughly 17 times more water per liter than cow milk production. Overall, LCAs show that, while almond milk is more water-intensive, cow milk pollutes the environment more.
Another issue with almond milk is that it causes a big portion of the nutrients in the almonds to be lost. Manufacturers of almond milk are left with an almond pulp residue. Despite the fact that this pulp is high in fiber and other nutrients, it is difficult to reuse as part of another product, at least for the time being. When comparing almond and dairy milk, investigations have found that the latter’s qualities are difficult to replicate. Is this to say that almond milk is harmful to the environment?
What is the most environmentally friendly milk substitute?
Soy is the first plant-based milk, after all. Soy was once regarded as the go-to replacement, because to its nutritional benefits and milk-like flavor and texture. Soy milk is supplemented with vitamins A, B-12, and D, as well as calcium, and contains the same amount of potassium and protein as cow’s milk. The following are some disadvantages: Soy is a frequent allergen that contains isoflavones, which are estrogen-like substances that, in high levels, can cause hormone-related health problems such as thyroid dysfunction or fertility troubles. Soy milk manufacturing has a low carbon footprint and consumes less water and land in terms of sustainability.
Almond milk entered the food and beverage industry several years after soy, and while many say that it tastes and feels better, its environmental impact is a hot topic. Almond milk has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions and requires the least amount of land to grow, but it needs nearly ten times the amount of water as soy milk. Furthermore, the majority of almond trees are grown in California, which is already prone to drought and heavily reliant on freshwater irrigation. Almond milk has a lot of nutritional value (it’s high in vitamin E and typically fortified with calcium and vitamin D), but is the amount of water it uses worth it? You might be better suited looking for a different type of plant-based milk.
Oat milk, a millennial favorite, is becoming as ubiquitous as dairy milk in many major U.S. cities. According to studies, oat milk has a smaller negative environmental impact than almond and soy milk; it consumes significantly less water and land, and emits a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, oat milk has the smooth creaminess that many coffee drinkers seek in dairy milk, making it an excellent alternative for both cafs and home baristas.
We’re telling you that there are now barista variants of hemp milk, just as you’ve learned about hemp’s various qualities as apparel and food! Hemp milk is not to be confused with marijuana hemp. Hemp milk is made from the seeds of the hemp plant. Those seeds are a superfood, with as much protein as soy beans, as well as vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and other nutrients. It has none of the typical allergies, yet because it is a plant, it takes in four times the amount of CO2 that trees do. It also consumes extremely little water and grows organically without the usage of pesticides.
What makes almond milk such a bad choice for the environment?
The Mic Network reports that “Almond milk, the ever-popular soy-free, dairy-free, vegan-friendly milk alternative now found in chic eateries and coffee shops everywhere, is destroying the earth.”
According to a Fortune Magazine article, almond milk has grown in popularity as a dairy-free alternative for vegans and lactose-intolerant coffee drinkers alike in recent years, becoming more popular than other non-dairy milks. The market for almond milk grew by 250 percent between 2010 and 2015.
When compared to dairy milk, many consumers choose almond milk since it has a lower carbon footprint. However, almond milk has a negative impact on the environment in other ways, which may surprise you. The main concerns with almond milk production are water use and pesticide use, both of which may have long-term environmental consequences in drought-stricken California, which produces more than 80% of the world’s almonds.
Commercial almond farming in California necessitates irrigation with ground and surface water diverted from the state’s aqueduct system. According to a New York Times report, it takes around 15 gallons of water to produce 16 almonds, making almonds one of the state’s most water-intensive crops. Almond milk’s reputation as a healthy alternative has been questioned by critics who argue that the nutritional benefits do not outweigh the amounts of water required to cultivate almonds.
Given that California produces more than two billion almonds, it’s simple to see why the amount of water diverted for this purpose is significant enough to be concerning. And, because many almonds are cultivated on land that has been converted from natural areas or farms cultivating low-water crops to fulfill the expanding demand for almonds, the increased irrigation needs have been significant.
Forbes reports that “Almond farms have been established on 23,000 acres of natural land. 16,000 acres of the area had previously been categorized as wetlands. In addition, some agricultural land has been turned to almonds from lower-water crops.”
Because the ground in the San Joaquin Valley, where most almonds are grown, is already sinking due to groundwater depletion, the additional wells farmers are digging to irrigate new orchards could have long-term consequences for California and its residents who rely on groundwater for drinking water.
Pesticide use in commercial almond production has been known to contaminate already scarce water supplies and contribute to the toxification of drinking water for people in California’s farming areas, exacerbating the problem. The USDA Pesticide Data Program has identified residues of nine distinct pesticides on almonds, five of which are hazardous to honey bees, according to the Pesticide Action Network, creating another another environmental threat.
A final point to consider is that certain store-bought almond milk brands contain carrageenan, a stabilizer and thickening chemical that has been linked to gastric issues.
According to the California Almond Board, the almond industry is working to promote sustainable water usage and boost water efficiency, so there are some solutions in the works. And, while just a few million almonds are currently certified organic, more farmers are opting to go this route, resulting in a rise in certified organic almond products on the market.
- Think about your possibilities. You might alternate between several non-dairy milks, as each has its own set of perks and drawbacks. Goat and sheep milk are nutrient-dense and less allergic alternatives to cow’s milk.
- Make your own version. If almond milk is a must-have in your life, try making it at home with organic almonds. At the very least, you’ll be able to manage how much water is used in the milk-making process, resulting in a purer product.
- Purchase organically certified products. Pesticides aren’t used in certified organic almond milk, and there’s often less water used as well. When shopping, pick this option. Inquire if the caf uses certified organic products, and if not, propose they do so.
- Carrageenan-containing brands should be avoided. When purchasing almond milk, read the label carefully and avoid types that contain carrageenan.
Which nut milk is the most environmentally friendly?
When analyzing the environmental impact of plant milks, it’s vital to know what resources different plants require to develop and what kind of footprint they may leave.
A recent study that compared the environmental implications of dairy, soy, almond, oat, and rice milks using data from over 10,000 farms around the world determined that any nondairy milk is healthier for the planet than dairy (4).
Dairy may emit three times the amount of greenhouse gases as plant milks and require nine times the amount of land to produce. Plant milks, unlike dairy milk, do not necessitate the use of natural resources to grow animals (4).
Plants used to create commercial milks, on the other hand, demand finite resources such as land and water. They also produce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, which contribute to global warming (5).
Nonetheless, all plant-based milks have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the best one may be dependent on which environmental elements are most important to you and a thorough examination of the facts provided.
There is currently no scientifically rigorous way to rank plant milk’s environmental impacts. Still, if you’re concerned about water use, avoid almond and rice milks; if you’re concerned about land use, avoid soy and oat milks.
Due to the amount of land necessary to meet demand, soy, along with cattle, is one of the most significant sources of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. According to one study, a 4-cup (1-liter) consumption of soy milk necessitates about 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometers) of land every year (4).
The majority of soy crops, on the other hand, are planted to feed cattle and produce biofuel, rather than to manufacture soy milk for people. In fact, according to some sources, only a small percentage of worldwide soy is farmed for human consumption (6).
Soy production in the United States accounts for 35% of global output. The good news is that deforestation has decreased as a result of the Amazon Soy Moratorium, which saw grain traders agree not to buy soy cultivated on recently deforested land (7, 8, 9).
Some soy milk firms, such as Silk, claim to use only organic soybeans farmed in the United States, removing the deforestation aspect from the equation.
While soy may necessitate a large amount of land, it also has other advantages. Soy crops, like other legumes, help fix nitrogen in the soil, reducing the demand for nitrogen fertilizers (10).
Almond milk is one of the most water-intensive plant milks, using far more than soy or oat milk. According to a research financed by the California Almond Board, a single California almond requires 3.2 gallons (12.1 liters) of water to produce (11).
Almonds had the biggest water footprint of any of the nine crops studied in Australia, outnumbering apples, grapes, tomatoes, oranges, peaches, cherries, potatoes, and carrots (12).
Almonds, in fact, needed so much water that the authors advised against growing them any longer (12).
Furthermore, California produces around 80% of the world’s almonds, and the state has been hit by severe droughts in recent years, further jeopardizing water supplies (13).
When it comes to land resources, nuts require less than oatmeal but more than rice, according to studies (4).
The hemp plant is environmentally benign because it produces a high yield and all of its parts can be used. The stalks and roots are used in construction materials, textile fibers, hemp paper and polymers, and the leaves and seeds are used to manufacture oil and milk (14, 15).
Hemp is also naturally disease resistant and provides shade, which helps to decrease weeds. Because of these features, hemp may be grown with fewer herbicides and pesticides. Their deep roots may also provide nutrients to the soil in where they are planted (15).
Rice milk emits a significant amount of greenhouse gas. Rice paddies are known to have bacteria that generate substantial amounts of methane when they are flooded, which is a common procedure for rice fields (16, 17, 18).
Rice, unsurprisingly, requires a lot of water to grow. Rice, on the other hand, consumes less land than soy, oats, and almonds in terms of land resources (4).
Rice is also known to have significant quantities of arsenic, which could damage neighboring streams (19).
Oats are frequently planted as large-scale monoculture crops, meaning they are the only crop grown on the same site over and over again.
Monocultures limit insect biodiversity in the surrounding ecosystem, perhaps leading to an increase in pests and, as a result, pesticide use. Monocultures can deplete soil nutrients, lowering crop fertility overall (20, 21).
Furthermore, glyphosate-based herbicides are routinely used to cultivate oats, which may increase the growth and spread of glyphosate-resistant diseases that harm plants, insects, and mammals (22).
Despite this, lifecycle evaluations undertaken by the Swedish oat milk brand Oatly show that its procedures produce 80% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, 60% less energy, and 80% less land use than dairy milk (23, 24).
Keep in mind that industry-funded studies are prone to limiting variables and biases.
According to other research, oats demand more land than soy, almond, or rice. When it comes to water consumption, oats consume far less than almonds and rice, and only slightly more than soy (4).
Peas are native to locations where there is a lot of rain, thus they require less existing water to thrive.
In addition, pea crops require less irrigation and are rotated by farmers. This aids in the natural fixation of nitrogen in the soil and reduces the need for fertilizer (8, 25).
Furthermore, unlike soybeans, peas are not currently genetically modified to be herbicide-resistant (26).
Ripple says that its pea milk emits 86% less greenhouse gas than almond milk (
What is the environmental impact of cow milk?
The production of milk takes place all over the world. Population growth, rising affluence, urbanization, and westernization of cuisines in nations like China and India are all driving up global demand for dairy. With the rising demand for dairy, natural resources such as freshwater and soil are under increasing strain. In several countries, WWF collaborates with dairy farmers, industry groups, and other stakeholders to conserve and safeguard natural resources and ecosystems.
Approximately 270 million dairy cows are tended by millions of farmers around the world to generate milk. Milk production has a variety of environmental consequences, the magnitude of which is determined by dairy farmers’ and feed growers’ activities.
Dairy cows and their dung contribute to climate change by emitting greenhouse gases. Manure and fertilizer management can have a negative impact on local water resources. Furthermore, unsustainable dairy farming and feed production can result in the extinction of ecologically significant places such as grasslands, marshes, and forests.
WWF envisions a worldwide market where all dairy is produced in the most environmentally friendly way possible. WWF intends to transform the milk production industry by working with dairy farmers, co-ops, businesses, and others to promote the use of sustainable practices.
Almond milk emits less environmental gases and requires less land than dairy milk, but it is notorious for its high water consumption. Almond milk uses the most water of any of the dairy alternatives: a single glass of almond milk requires 130 liters of water.
About 80% of the almonds used in milk in the United States are grown in California, however due to the hot temperature, the almonds’ high water consumption puts a lot of stress on the dry, desert soil, especially during the frequent heatwaves and fires that ravage the state.
What role do bees play in this? All those almond trees need to be pollinated! The burden of the bees increases as the almond industry expands. Every spring, about 70% of commercial bees in the United States are enlisted to pollinate almonds. It’s believed that one-third of the bees died last year as a result of the stresses of this growth mismatch.
If you’re trying to figure out if almond milk or oat milk is better for you, look at the ingredients on the label. Both employ oils and other chemicals to give them a smooth milk-like feel.
Coconut sounds like a refreshing drink, and it appears to be something a caveman (or woman) would like. Heartwarming, romantic, and with a lovely tree to call home! However, the story is one of sweatshop conditions in poor countries, where pickers are paid less than a dollar per day.
Farmers are taking shortcuts and even forcing monkeys into inhumane labor techniques to meet worldwide demand for coconuts, according to a PETA report that reveals how the animals are attached to poles and forced to mount trees to shake loose the coconuts (an animal abuse story that has garnered international attention). “The coconut is an awful tragedy,” Isaac Emery, a food sustainability consultant, says. Cooking with coconut oil is a luxury, but it was brought to market under tough circumstances.
Meanwhile, the rainforest is being cleared to make way for these rows and rows of trees, which contribute very little to the planet’s biodiversity. According to a New York Times study, rainforests in Indonesia were clearcut at a rate of three acres per minute between 2007 and 2014 to make room for coconut palm palms. Choose Fair Trade certified coconut products to avoid supporting unsustainable methods.
Rice milk is recognized for being a less expensive option than its nut milk counterparts. However, when compared to other vegan milks, rice provides nothing in the way of nutrition or environmental benefits. Rice absorbs water and emits more greenhouse gases than any other plant species, according to an Oxford research. Furthermore, the swampy paddies leak methane into the atmosphere, as well as allowing germs to flourish and be released into the sky. When it comes to water pollution, rice is one of the worst offenders.
The chocolate lover’s dream, the innocuous hazelnut, is on the rise. Hazelnuts, like all nuts, grow on trees, and all treesindeed, all plantsuse the energy of sunlight. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water from the ground, then release oxygen into the atmosphere (photosynthesis!). As a result, hazelnuts are better for the environment than almonds since they are pollinated by the wind rather than bees. Hazelnuts are native to wetter climates, such as the Pacific Northwest, where water is more abundant than in parched California.
Hemp Milk and Flax Milk
Hemp and flax haven’t received the same attention as oat and almond, but they deserve greater recognition for requiring less water, producing high-protein milk, and having a high fiber content. Because they’re grown in such small quantities, they’re referred to as “niche crops.” Seeds, on the whole, are easier to grow than nuts and provide more healthful fats, minerals, and nutrients per ounce.
Soy is the winner in terms of both sustainability and protein content. And, after years of being misinterpreted as a plant-based phytoestrogen that women avoided because they feared it would increase their risk of breast cancer, new research shows that the opposite is true: that when taken in moderation, soy appears to have some preventive effect. Recent research has indicated that a moderate intake of soy is healthy and may even help regulate hormones.
Soybeans are farmed in huge amounts around the world to feed livestock for meat and dairy production, which is the biggest environmental disadvantage of soy milk. To make room for soy plantations, large areas of rainforest in the Amazon have been destroyed. To get around this, simply do some research and read the label to identify soy milk manufactured from organic soybeans cultivated in the United States or Canada.
No one could have predicted the love affair that would ensue when the latest Swedish invasion, in the guise of Oatly, arrived in the United States many years ago. Oat milk is strong in protein and tastes much like genuine milk. Growing oats has a modest environmental impact, at least for the time being. Oats are good for both your health and the environment. Also regarded as a low-input crop, oats provide crop diversity, minimize soil erosion, and help reduce the risk of plant diseases when planted in rotation. The magnificent oat is a hero grain in its own right.
Oat milk sales in the United States increased from $4.4 million in 2017 to $29 million in 2019, putting it ahead of almond milk as the fastest-growing non-dairy milk. Oats may become more of a commodity in the future. But, for the time being, there are enough oats to keep us on Oatly for many years.
Oats are typically farmed in mass-produced industrial agribusinesses, where farmers spray them with Monstanto’s glyphosate-based pesticide Roundup before harvesting. As you may be aware, Roundup has been linked to cancer in a number of high-profile cases in which jurors awarded large sums to plaintiffs. Farmers are still aware of the well-publicized occurrences, but they continue to use the chemical because of its effectiveness. Bayer, which purchased Monsanto in 2018, is disputing the active chemical in Roundup, glyphosate, causing cancer in people.
So, how much glyphosate is actually in your bowl of oats or your oat milk latte? Glyphosate was identified in all of the goods tested that used conventionally produced oats, as well as one-third of items manufactured with organic oats, according to a recent study by the Environmental Working Group. The popular Oatly brand oat milk firm, on the other hand, claims that its oats are glyphosate-free.
Pistachio milk, a latecomer to the party, is having a moment in the spotlight. That’s because the rich tiny nuts produce a convincing milk-like flow that goes well with coffee and froths up like real cream in lattes. Tache and Elmhurst both make pistachio milk, which we tasted.
Pistachios are popular not only because they are high in protein and fiber (6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per ounce), but also because they include micronutrients and critical vitamins and minerals such as calcium and zinc, making this nut milk well worth the 92 calories per cup.
If you’re looking for the most environmentally friendly non-dairy milk, you should know that pistachios use half the amount of water as almonds and are on level with oats in terms of water use.
Pea protein milk uses less water than other milk alternatives and emits fewer greenhouse gases than the majority of non-dairy milks. One explanation is that peas use 85 percent less water to grow than almonds, and they can use nitrogen from the air to form plant cells, requiring less fertilizer than other plants, which has a high carbon footprint. “Peas are significantly better on a water and carbon basis,” said Adam Lowry, inventor of Ripple Pea Milk.
Due to its minimal water requirements and the fact that it requires less fertilizer than any other non-dairy milk alternative, pea milk may be one of the most sustainable solutions for your non-dairy milk selections.
Cashew milk is the most similar to almond milk in taste and consistency, with one major difference: cashew milk is made with far less water than almond milk. Cashews, on the other hand, are not water-sparing: they require more water to grow than seeds or legumes. Overall, cashew milk is a sustainable option because it requires less area to cultivate the plants, especially when compared to other plant-based milks. Cashews’ demise is due to the mistreatment of cashew pickers. Some people boycott cashews because of the poor working conditions, which include the usage of labor camps in some locations where cashews are farmed and processed for milk.
Macadamia milk uses far less water than almond or dairy milk to develop and create. However, countries where macadamia nuts are regularly grown, such as Australia, Hawaii, and other tropical regions, have been dealing with severe water shortages and other climate-related challenges. As long as pesticides are not utilized, macadamia nuts are considered moderately sustainable since they cause less environmental impact to air, water, land, soil, and forests. If possible, purchase organic and non-GMO Macadamia Milk.
Sesame milk is a new plant milk on the market that you may not have heard of but is a terrific alternative if you’re looking for a sustainable option. This non-dairy milk replacement made from sesame seeds may be the most environmentally friendly non-dairy milk on the market.
One of the few sesame milk brands currently on the market, Hope and Sesame, claims that its alternative milk uses 95 percent less water than almond milk and 75 percent less water than oat milk. Drought-tolerant, self-pollinating, naturally pest-resistant, and hardy, sesame plants are native to Africa and India. Pesticides and herbicides aren’t needed for them to thrive.
Sesame milk consumes only 12 liters of water per liter of milk, compared to 28 liters of water for one liter of soymilk, 28 liters for each liter of oat milk, and 371 liters of water for each liter of almond milk. All are superior to cow’s milk, which necessitates the use of 628 liters of water to make one liter of milk.
Is it true that almonds are hazardous for the environment?
Despite the fact that nuts have a lower carbon footprint than animal-based products, not all nuts are created equal in terms of sustainability.
Groundnuts, legumes (such as peanuts), and tree nuts (such as macadamia nuts) all require distinct cultivation techniques. Because trees absorb carbon from the environment, tree nut cultivation produces fewer GHG emissions per 100g protein.
Because almonds require a lot of water to mature, they are typically regarded as being less environmentally friendly. Each almond requires a gallon (4.6 litres) of water to manufacture. California produces 82 percent of the world’s almonds, and with the state still suffering from droughts, you can imagine where the finger of blame is pointed.
Almond cultivation has the potential to destabilize ecosystems and put a pressure on bee populations. Intensive pollination operations may cause bees to be hurt or killed during cross-country transit, which can spread diseases and illnesses to adjacent colonies.
Is this, however, a reason to avoid almonds? At the end of the day, almond cultivation has a substantially lesser environmental impact than beef production. In addition, efforts are being made to limit the amount of water used in almond production. Drip irrigation systems, which give plants with smaller, targeted amounts of water, have been introduced by many almond producers in California.
Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts, on the other hand, are excellent examples of sustainable food production because they require little water and maintenance. Brazil nuts are also good for the jungle and help to prevent deforestation.
Each of these nuts uses 2kg CO2eq to create 1kg, which is the equivalent of a car traveling 5 kilometers, according to Healabel. Almonds, on the other hand, have a higher carbon footprint, requiring 3.56 kilograms of CO2 equivalent to produce 1 kilogram. Walnuts and pistachios have the smallest carbon footprints, emitting 0.76kg CO2eq and 1.1kg CO2eq per kilogram of product, respectively.
But, according to Climate Smart Macadamia Agroforestry (CSMA), a technique pioneered by HIMACUL farmers with the direction of The Neno Macadamia Trust, macadamia nuts have the potential to have a substantially lower level of GHG emissions (NMT).
What is the healthiest milk?
Hemp milk is prepared from crushed, soaked hemp seeds that are free of the psychotropic ingredient found in Cannabis sativa plants.
Protein and omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats are abundant in the seeds. As a result, hemp milk has a somewhat higher concentration of these nutrients than other plant milks.
Although hemp milk is almost carb-free, some brands include sweets, which raise the carb count. Make sure to read the ingredient label and get hemp or any other plant milk that hasn’t been sweetened.
On the ingredient label, sugar may be described as brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, or cane sugar.
The seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant are used to make hemp milk. While the drink isn’t psychotropic, it does include more healthful fats and protein than other plant milks.
Is vegan milk good for the environment?
I’m thinking about the importance of sustainability in my own baking, as are many of us at King Arthur, starting with the environmental impact of my ingredients and replacing cow’s milk with plant-based milk whenever possible. My oat milk carton has gone from my daily latte to my go-to milk in freestyle pancake batter or a lactose-free chocolate pastry for a lactose-intolerant friend all with no discernible change in outcomes compared to dairy-based baking.
Every baker is unique, and the ingredients that work best for you will depend on considerations such as allergies, accessibility, nutrition, or just taste. In my baking, I still use a lot of milk and butter, but I’m also using oat milk or coconut milk in some of the recipes. Aside from these two possibilities, there are plenty other 1:1 dairy substitutes available, with everything from soy to almond to rice to hemp available on the non-dairy aisle. As a result, I couldn’t help but wonder: What is the greatest non-dairy milk for the environment? Is there one that is the most environmentally friendly?
When I started looking for an answer, I rapidly realized… it depends. While the answer isn’t always clear, it does encourage further contemplation about where our favorite baking components originate from and how they’re farmed, and I’ve only scratched the surface on a few typical alternative milks below. “Sometimes it feels like everything you buy is somehow terrible for the earth,” says environment and globalization reporter Ajit Niranjan in this video. And, yes, it is frequently the case. However, some options are preferable to others.”
What’s the big takeaway? When compared to dairy milk, plant-based milks emit less greenhouse gases, consume less water, and require less land across the board so making any switch is a good place to start if you want to reduce your baking’s environmental impact.
What’s the environmental cost of cow’s milk?
Cows (and, for that matter, any animals) require more maintenance than crops, resulting in higher resource use. Water is required to cultivate those crops, and any transportation of those commodities is also considered into the entire ecological footprint of dairy. Livestock, in particular, is a major contributor of worldwide methane emissions.
The most important caveat with almond milk is the amount of water required to prepare it. Almonds, like other tree nuts, require a lot of water to grow. Furthermore, domestic almonds are mostly farmed in California, which is prone to drought. According to a 2019 study, it takes an average of 3.2 gallons to produce one California-grown almond, and a lifecycle evaluation reveals that water usage is the most significant source of almond milk’s global warming potential.
A single 200-milliliter glass of almond milk requires nearly the same amount of water to generate as a shower, about 74 liters, according to Niranjan, who uses everyday figures from a University of Oxford study. (Cow’s milk, on the other hand, requires 124 liters to create the same amount.)
Soybeans are part of the legume family, which produces some of the least carbon dioxide. Plus, our Test Kitchen’s favorite vegan beverage is soy milk “a wash of “egg” Soy production, on the other hand, is linked to meat production because it’s a key ingredient in animal feed, which, in turn, necessitates enormous land areas (including the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest) to meet the high demand for meat.
Not every soybean harvested, however, contributes to these land challenges. “In this video, AsapSCIENCE co-creator Mitchell Moffit advises that “doing a little research and reading the box can help you locate items that come from Canada or the United States and help promote ethical practices.” To put it another way, clear sourcing information can assist us as customers in selecting soy products that are cultivated in a sustainable manner.
Even when compared to other plant-based milks, oat milk gets good scores for its relatively low emissions, land utilization, and water use. This appears to be the “best” option at first glance. Remember that as an agricultural product, you have the option of going organic to be more environmentally conscious.
Similarly, coconut has low emissions and uses little water, making it a strong contender for the title of best plant-based milk. When you consider worldwide consumption and increased demand for coconut and coconut-based products, however, there is a bigger impact.
As the popularity of coconut milk develops, it has an impact on the supply chain. Deforestation in tropical areas, declining yields that lower farmer wages, and inequitable labor practices are all examples of this. Ethical sourcing isn’t always simple or straightforward due to the intricacies of supply chains and changing surroundings. One thing consumers can do is look for products that are fair trade, which means the product satisfies social, environmental, and economic standards that are sustainable.
So which plant-based milk should you choose?
Niranjan states, “While comparing numerous vegan milks, “According to the research, soy and oat milk had the smallest environmental impact. They require little water to thrive and emit little pollutants.” He notes, however, that “The variations between these vegan milks are minor when compared to cow’s milk. And with such a wide variety of plant milks to choose from, it’s more likely that individuals will find one they enjoy.”
Every baker’s ingredient preferences are different, but if you’re seeking for a more sustainable alternative to cow’s milk in baking, any plant-based milk will suffice.
What began as a one-off experiment with pancake batter to use up a carton of oat milk turned into a far broader understanding of what it means to include sustainability into my own baking. Will I be solely a vegan baker in the future? No, but I’m starting with a single trade and making decisions that seem appropriate for me and my baking.