How to Make Cashew Milk
Here's a recipe for making cashew milk, as well as how cashew milk compares to cow's milk in terms of protein, vitamins, and nutrition in general.
What exactly is in your glass of milk? Is it from a cow or from a plant?
Plant-based milk alternatives have been taking off in popularity in recent years. One industry report notes the plant-based milk market is expected to reach $21.52 billion in 2024, with a more than 10 percent annual growth rate from 2020.
People may turn away from traditional dairy for a number of reasons, including the desire to consume fewer animal products or because of lactose intolerance. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 65 percent of people have a hard time digesting lactose, a sugar found in dairy milk.
“For those who have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, nut milks are a delicious and creamy alternative,” says Rachael Hartley, a registered dietitian in Columbia, South Carolina. Plant milks may be also one of the baby steps to ease into a plant-based diet.
Although soy milk and almond milk are perhaps more popular, other plant milks such as cashew milk are trending up, too. But how healthy are they?
Whole nuts, including cashews, are rich in good fats and have heart-healthy benefits. Plant-based milks, including cashew milk, have similar good points, such as low cholesterol and saturated fat.
However, unless it’s fortified—and it won’t be if you’re making your own, although many types sold in stores are fortified—plant milk will have little or none of some key nutrients found in dairy milk.
On the other hand, you’ll also have fewer additives and more whole-nut nutrition if you make cashew milk at home. Here’s why.
What are cashews?
The cashew is technically not a nut but a “drupe seed” that forms on the end of a cashew apple—and once you see how cashews grow, you’ll never look at them the same way again.
Native to South America, cashew trees were brought to Asia by explorers hundreds of years ago. Cashews are now grown and exported from India, Vietnam, and parts of Africa.
The harvesting process is quite involved, as the inside of the cashew shell contains a chemical similar to poison ivy. So the nut has to be carefully extracted and heated to destroy the compound’s allergic effects. That’s why you won’t see cashews in the shell in stores.
The nutritional makeup of cashews
Nuts such as cashews are part of a healthy diet. “Cashews are packed with nutrients including heart-healthy fats and protein,” says Atlanta-based registered dietitian nutritionist Rahaf Al Bochi, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Olive Tree Nutrition.
“One ounce of cashews contains five grams of protein,” says Al Bochi. “They are also a source of fibre. They are rich in antioxidants, specifically carotenoids and polyphenols, which help reduce risk for chronic diseases.”
The healthy, unsaturated fat and fibre in cashews can help you lose weight when eaten in moderation, as they keep you feeling full longer. Nuts are actually one of the best healthy snacks for weight loss.
Plus, mineral-rich cashews are one of the best sources of copper, which has benefits for the immune system and brain development; magnesium, which helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure; and manganese, which is important for bone health.
(Related: The Surprising Health Benefits of Chestnuts)
Is cashew milk healthy?
Yes, although it’s not an exact replacement for dairy milk. Homemade “nut milk will not be quite as protein-dense as cow’s milk—the other nutrients will be different, since nuts and dairy milk have different nutrient profiles,” says registered dietitian and oncology nutrition specialist Julie Lanford, wellness director of Cancer Services, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Dairy milk is higher in protein and B12. But nut milk will have more fibre. I don’t think one is any better than the other. They are just different.”
Although it’s usually best to have nuts in moderation, you don’t need to worry much about the fat or calorie content of cashew milk.
“You’d have to chug a lot of cashew milk for fat and calories to be a concern,” says Robin Foroutan, a New York-based integrative medicine dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Store-bought vs. homemade cashew milk
Using store-bought cashew milk may have some nutritional downsides. “You can accidentally get a lot of added sugar if you’re not reading the ingredients and nutritional label,” Foroutan says. “I recommend people get the unsweetened nut/plant milks.”
In addition, store-bought cashew milk may have other additives. “For some people with very sensitive stomachs, the stabilizers and thickeners in nut and plant milks can cause a little bit of tummy trouble, so it’s good to be aware of that,” Foroutan says. “Years ago, nut and plant milks had a lot of ‘extra’ ingredients like thickeners, whiteners, and stabilizers. But these days there are tons of better options with very simple ingredients. Just like everything else, give that ingredient list a read so you know what you’re eating.”
Even simple, unsweetened varieties of cashew milk may have drawbacks because of what’s not in them. “The nutrient value of dairy milk is much superior to commercial cashew milk, since commercial cashew milk is very diluted,” Lanford says. “Most store-bought cashew milks have low, or nonexistent, amounts of protein. That’s why I prefer that my clients make it at home if they want an alternative to soy milk or cow’s milk.”
One upside of the already-made kind? “Store-bought cashew milk is fortified with calcium and vitamin D, whereas homemade cashew milk would not have the calcium and vitamin D,” Al Bochi says. If you opt for homemade, make sure you’re getting your calcium and vitamin D from another source. These nutrients are vital, particularly for growing children.
(Related: 10 Delicious Ways to Use Cashew Milk)
Why you should make your own
Although cashew milk in general has less protein than dairy milk, making your own can help retain more.
“Making your own at home will produce more protein because you will use more cashews per cup than the commercial cashew milk,” Lanford says. “Since cashews are nuts, we expect them to provide protein. In addition, if you want to replace cow’s milk—typically used as a source of protein—with a plant milk, use (one) with a similar amount of protein.”
But beware that your all-natural homemade variety won’t last as long as store-bought brands with preservatives. “Without the preservatives, homemade nut milks do spoil pretty quickly, in about three days or so,” Foroutan says. “So if you make it at home, be sure to use it quickly.”
To strain or not to strain
One of the best things about making cashew milk as opposed to other nut milks is that cashews’ soft consistency doesn’t require straining, so you’re getting the whole nut and don’t lose out on its natural nutrients. Although you can strain if you really want to, it’s healthier—and easier—not to.
“I don’t bother straining it,” Lanford says. “If you do not strain the nuts, and use the whole ground nut mixed with water and some source of sweetener—dates, in my case [recipe below]—then you will not miss out on the nutrients in the cashews. If you strain the nuts, then you may lose some fibre and nutrients that stay behind with it.”
Not having to strain through a “nut bag” or cheesecloth also just makes it simpler to do, and doesn’t require any special tools besides a blender. “Since cashews are fairly soft, cashew milk is the easiest of the nut milks to make,” Hartley says. “While it takes a bit of time to soak the nuts in water to soften, homemade cashew milk takes very little hands-on time.”
But how’s the taste?
Cashew milk is super versatile, with a very mild taste. “Cashew milk is light and creamy, with a slightly sweet and nutty flavour,” Hartley says. “It’s a great canvas to add other delicious flavourings, like vanilla, cinnamon, honey, maple syrup, cocoa powder, or even fruit—like bananas or strawberries—to make a more smoothie-like milk.”
Her recipe for cashew milk includes coconut water, vanilla, honey, and a pinch of salt. She also recommends soaking the nuts for a couple of hours before making the milk to ensure maximum creaminess.
Plus, you can vary the amount of water if you like your milk thinner or thicker; and change the sweeteners per your preference, or what you have on hand. “You get to decide what goes in, which is nice,” Foroutan says.
Cashew Milk Recipe
Here’s a simple recipe for cashew milk, courtesy of Lanford. “I typically like mine to taste a little sweet, so I do add some dates and vanilla in to add a delicious flavour,” she says. In addition, “dates also add a bit more fibre and some nutrients.”
- 1 cup cashews
- 2 dates
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups water