This blog post is also available in German.
We have been discussing superfoods intensively over the last weeks. Almonds are superfoods as well. They are rich in magnesium, calcium, unsaturated fatty acids, proteins and fibre. A thoroughly healthy nut. With the boom of vegetable milk alternatives, the popularity of almonds also increased. Instead of cow’s milk, people drink almond milk now. I also have to admit that I like to drink it. But is almond milk sustainable?
I will answer this question in the following lines.
Why is almond milk ecologically problematic?
80% of the almonds used for our almond milk come from California. This per se makes it an overseas product. The import thus causes more CO2 emissions.
Moreover, the situation on the almond plantations in California is as follows; monoculture! In other words, a huge area of almond trees are lined up one after another. I`ve already examined the effects of monoculture on soil quality in several blog posts. For example here. But I`ll mention it briefly again. Each plant has an individual nutrient requirement. If hundreds of plants of one and the same genus grow in close proximity, they will leach out the soil on one side only. After all, they need the same nutrients. This causes an imbalance of the soil condition over a certain period of time. The soil quality decreases, certain insects and small animals cannot find food anymore and the one-sided agriculture attracts more pests and vermin. Accordingly, more herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides are used on monocultures.
Californian almond trees are pollinated by bees. In order to be able to pollinate the vast quantities of almond trees at the same time, large amounts of bees are transported to the almond region. The resulting stress for the bees is fatal. Many do not survive the transport, get diseases and die after it. The transport of bees is to some extent similar to the transport of livestock, if you like. Which is why Californian almond tree plantations a reason for higher bee mortality.
This shows the extent to which Californian almonds are ecologically unfavourable. The remaining 20% of the almonds come from Europe, mainly Spain and Turkey. There, the monoculture problem exists less, but still that of water. No matter in which region almond trees are cultivated, they need an enormous amount of water to thrive. In dry regions they use groundwater to water the trees.
This section makes it clear that the consumption of almonds and their milk is ecologically problematic.
Is almond milk more sustainable than cow’s milk?
Probably the question that interests us the most. The production of almond milk requires 17 times more water per litre than the production of cow’s milk. However, almond milk production causes 1/10 less greenhouse gas emissions than cow’s milk (these figures are based on Californian almonds). In addition to the ecological aspect, we must consider the ethical aspect as well.
Is almond milk sustainable? No, I would say not. In my opinion, but especially for ethical reasons, almond milk is still preferable to cow’s milk. The poor water balance in almond milk production isn`t a reason to consume animal products. However, almond milk is certainly not the most sustainable vegetable milk alternative.
Which herbal milk alternatives are a better choice?
We probably agree that almond milk is not the most sustainable option, but that the consumption of cow’s milk is also unacceptable. What now? What herbal alternatives are there that are sustainable? Here are the three most sustainable alternatives.
Probably the most sustainable option is oat milk. Oats grow all over Europe and need much less energy and water than cow’s milk. In terms of water use oat milk is the winner in comparison to almond milk. Milk alternatives from lupins or peas are also sustainable. If you don’t want to do without nut milk, I advise you to use hazelnut milk. A recipe to make it yourself can be found in my free ebook. Meaningful life cycle assessment studies on hazelnut milk are still missing, however, as it is of secondary importance on the market. Anyone who cannot do without almond milk should ask the milk producers where they obtain the almonds. The consumption of European almonds is certainly ecologically less negative than that of Californian almonds. However, the water problem remains.
I hope I have been able to clarify the question of whether almond milk is sustainable. Finally, I would personally rather advise against consuming almonds, respectively restrict their consumption. I no longer buy almond milk. But sometimes I make myself a small batch using Spanish almonds at home every 3 months (you can find a recipe here).
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