Although not yet Paleo, I made the decision in 2005 to give up most forms of conventionally-raised dairy. I didn’t have much knowledge or access to raw dairy at that point so I made do without it (for the most part). One way I went about this was via store-bought dairy-free milks. I was smart enough to avoid soy but went back and forth between rice and almond milk. As I’m sure you’re aware, these weren’t too much healthier than eating true dairy due to the (sometimes hydrogenated) vegetable oils, various GMO ingredients, and emulsifying gums.
Around 2011 I got the cajones to try making my own. I definitely found it daunting at first. And I’ve seen the same thing in a lot if friends who try to eliminate dairy. They continue to rely on store-bought nut milks because it seems too tough to do otherwise. And though the ingredients in most store-bought options have slimmed down and been (somewhat) cleaned up, making your own is by-and-large always the best way to go.
So while I speak of not being intimidated by making your own, I’m here today to add a few extra steps to the homemade process. (My brain, I know… I don’t get it either.) I’ve included directions for a simplified (non-sprouted) version below so if you are new, please feel free to go that route. And once you’ve done a little time with that, I hope you’ll try your hand at growing some little almond sprouts.
I’ve sprouted seeds and beans before but almonds seemed to be a different ball game. They go a bit slower and it can be harder to tell that you’re on the right track. And what I found that made it even more difficult is in what almonds you’ve chosen to do your sprouting with. Almond buying was not something I’ve previously prioritized as organic. Sometimes from the bulk bins are Sprouts but more often than not from Costco. Kirkland brand makes no claims to organic, non-GMO or anything of the like. But I ate them so intermittently that I just hadn’t cared to find another option.
Well after two failed sprouting attempts with my Kirkland almonds (3 days and no sprouting, only a smelly, moldy mess!), I thought I should start investigating. What I found is that as of 2007, the USDA mandated that all almonds be pasteurized to prevent salmonella (there was an outbreak and some deaths that tied back to almonds). What’s worse is that while almonds can be steam pasteurized, many companies do not use this option. Because it’s quicker and simpler, they choose to fumigate the almonds with propylene oxide gas (POP). POP is a know genotoxin (gene-disrupting) and carcinogen (cancer-causing), yet that doesn’t stop the USDA from allowing it.
More times than not, the pasteurization process will yield almonds un-sproutable, due to killing off the enzymes needed for the nuts to naturally “reproduce.” Even if you think you are buying raw almonds, you may not be. There is no regulation stopping companies who pasteurize from claiming “raw” on the package as long as they are not roasted. While they don’t claim to be raw, Costco has stated they use POP. Probably the cause of my failed sprouting attempts. Detoxinista has a good list of where to get almonds here. I took her advice and scoured Amazon for a new brand. I found some made my Terrasoul that are organic and unpasteurized and state in the title that they are “sproutable.” I already use their pure Vanilla Bean Powder and it’s AMAZING so I felt I could trust them.
Why Sprout Your Nuts?
Sprouting is a simple process of saturating with saltwater and allowing the perfect conditions for growing. Since making almond milk already requires soaking, you are halfway there with just that step. All nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes contain significant levels of phytic acid, which acts as a natural protectant until they are ready for fertilization. Although phytic acid is a naturally occurring substance, it acts as a strong chelator (binder) to many nutrients, particularly zinc, calcium, and iron. This means that when you consume any nuts with phytic acid present, nutrients will be pulled out rather than used by your body. Soaking is an essential step to help neutralize the phytic acid and also increase the natural enzymes present to aid in sprouting.
Soaking plus sprouting ensures you are eating a LIVE food. According to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, sprouting can increase enzyme activity up to 6x what soaking does. People who note difficulty digesting nuts, cramping, bloating, etc, may simply be consuming unsoaked/unsprouted nuts that have phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors present. Soaking and sprouting allows for an easier digestive process due to greater enzymatic activity. The benefits of soaking/sprouting almonds are well-worth it. Personally I have found a dramatic difference in digesting them if I take them time to do it.
It’s Not Hard
Soaking, in and of itself, is not difficult — it just takes a bit of patience. And if you can handle soaking, you can handle sprouting. It’s simply a matter of a bit more babysitting. Have a job you’re at all day? Bring your nuts to work and set them in a window!
I highly recommend a sprout screen. It’s a cheap investment that really cleans up the process. I’ve seen them at many health food stores but you can also get one here. Otherwise, it’s just basic bowls and colanders needed plus a warm, even sunny, spot to let it rest. Questions — please ask!
Sprouted Almond Milk
Yields: 4 cups
large pinch of sea salt
filtered water for soaking
3 ½ c. filtered water
1 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup (optional, can sub 1-2 dates)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. sea salt
glass wide-mouth quart jar
small strainer or colander
small bowl that fits the strainer
sprouting screen (can sub a tea towel)
large bowl that fits the colander
Step 1: Place the almonds in the glass quart jar with a large pinch of sea salt and enough filtered water to completely submerge them. Cover with a sprouting screen and soak overnight, or a minimum 8 hours. Rinse the nuts and add another large pinch of sea salt and enough water to cover. Soak for another 8-12 hours. Then drain the water and rinse them well again. (If you won’t be sprouting your almonds, skip to step 3.)
Step 2: Place a small strainer inside a small bowl. Invert the jar of almonds into the strainer and place in a warm spot in the kitchen. Leave inverted for 24-48 hours for sprouting. Every 4-6 hours, rinse the almonds and place it back in the small strainer (letting it go 8 hours while you sleep is fine but try to rinse more often during the day). Rinsing less often can possibly cause bits of mildew to start growing. The almonds shown here were sprouted for 48 hours. You can tell they’ve sprouted due to the cracking in the shell/skin — from the stem trying to work its way out — and when you peel back the skin, you can see the stem peeking out from the top.
Step 3: Once they’ve finished sprouting, give them another good rinse. Peel the almonds if you want (see note below). Then place the almonds in a blender with the 3 ½ c. filtered water and blend on high for 1-2 minutes. Place a large colander inside a large bowl and line the colander with a tea towel. Pour the almond milk into the tea towel to strain out the pulp (see image above). After it’s strained most of the liquid through, gather the edges of the tea towel and twist the towel tight around the pulp. Squeeze as much of the remaining almond milk out into the bowl as your forearms can muster.
Step 4: Pour the almond milk back into the blender and add the honey (if using), vanilla extract, and sea salt. Blend for 10-15 seconds to incorporate. Pour the finished milk into a clean glass quart jar and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. The milk will naturally separate in the fridge, simply shake it again before drinking.
*Note on peeling the almonds: you may be wondering why I’d peel the almonds when many nutrients can be found in the skin? I often peel them to yield a finer blended pulp, which allows for easier dehydrating and grinding for homemade almond flour (you can see how white and clean the pulp is in the picture above).
I dehydrate the almond pulp in the oven on 175F for 1-2 hours, depending on the volume. Then grind it up in the blender and store it in a sealed container. When I leave the skins on, it’s tougher to get as fine a grind as you need for most almond flour baking recipes. If you don’t plan to dehydrate the pulp (using it for recipes like this or this), don’t worry about peeling the skins.