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Chat Leftovers: We crack the secret of almond milk

How to have a perfect Wednesday with the Food section: 1. Start your day with a big glass of local milk. 2. Plan an easy-but-elegant spring dinner party. 3. Tune in at 1 for today's Free Range chat, your chance to ask us any and all food-related questions. We're looking forward to having David Hagedorn on hand to talk about that dinner party. And to having you, too, of course.

As for me, I get the leftovers, those questions we just don't have time to answer during our allotted hour. Or sometimes we do have time to answer them, but we're just not 100 percent sure what the answer should be. That's true of today's question, which came up during last week's chat and made us curious enough to do some research:

How come almonds are high-calorie, but almond milk is as little as 40 calories for 8 ounces? Is it just water with a teeny bit of almond flavoring?

(Julia Ewan/The Washington Post)

Interesting question! One cup of almonds, 680 calories and 60 grams of fat. One cup of Silk or Almond Breeze almond milk, 60 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. How do they do it?

When you guessed water, you were on to something. But almond flavoring, not exactly. I called the people at Silk, a leading almond milk producer, to find out how the stuff is made, and it turns out there are actual almonds in there.

Here's the response I got in an e-mail from the company's R&D people:

"To make Silk Pure Almond almond milk, we begin with whole almonds that are lightly roasted and ground to produce creamy almond butter. Then we blend in water, natural sweetener, natural flavorings, vitamins and minerals. The combination of ingredients displaces some of the naturally occurring fat found in almonds, creating low-fat, delicious almond milk."

I asked but, unfortunately, couldn't find out how many almonds are in a cup of almond milk. That would have helped shed light on the situation.

But that's okay; I'm just happy to learn something new. Water dilutes the almonds' fat and calories: That's your answer, in a nutshell.

-- Jane Touzalin

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By Jane Touzalin  |  April 7, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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Is that true? Water dilutes fat and calories? Can I just drink water with my Big Mac instead of a Diet Coke and call it a diet lunch?

Posted by: rabbfamily | April 7, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

You could skip the middleman and make your own almond milk. Recipes abound online. You can also make oatmeal milk. I've done this in the past when my child was still allergic to dairy. It came out pretty well.

Posted by: fantasyjoker | April 7, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Certainly, water acts as a diluter: If you take one cup of ground almonds and add one cup of water, the calories in one cup of the resulting two cups of slurry will be half of what you'd have in the cup of almonds.

But there's also the fact that in extracting milk from the almonds -- or from coconut, for example -- you're not extracting every last drop of fat and starch and sugar and whatever else is in the almond or the coconut. Here, think of it this way: When you pour boiling water over ground-up coffee beans and let it sit for a few minutes (just about exactly the method used to turn ground-up coconut into coconut milk), you get a flavorful extraction. But if you poured off the coffee liquid that you've made, and poured a second cup of boiling water over the same ground-up coffee, you'd get a second flavored extraction. It wouldn't have as much flavor as the first one, but it would be a powerful indication that the first extraction did not pull every single molecule of flavor out of those beans.

Same with almond milk. There's STUFF left in the almonds -- flavor and fat and fiber, etc. -- even after you've extracted your almond milk. And the calories in that STUFF are not going into your almond milk.

Posted by: maggiesara | April 7, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

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