Stop Faking It

There are a few food combinations that are truly repellent. Unsweetened almond milk in coffee is one of them. It not only turns the coffee a putrid orange, but it enhances the coffee’s bitterness such that if you’re ever trying to give up coffee, I highly recommend swapping cream for almond milk for a day.

I was trying to cut back on dairy so thought I’d go the almond milk route for a while. And I was nearly willing to put up with the unpleasantness in my coffee mug, until I started taking a closer look at the ingredient list.

It’s long.

The brand I bought was organic and one of the more respected names in the business, but the almonds themselves had a full entourage propping them up and ensuring that they performed the way the audience was expecting them to.  (That is, having a “mouth-feel” as close to cow’s milk as possible.) There were the usual faces in the list such as “natural flavors” (which I avoid since “flavor” but definition is not “natural” but derived in mass quantities in a lab) but there was one ingredient that stopped me – carrageenan.  It’s used as a thickening agent as well as an emulsifier (to keep everything together).   But the more reading I did, the more I came to believe that it may not be good for us, and probably should be avoided.

Carrageenan is made from seaweed.  It is used in many foods (including many organic foods) and is generally considered safe except that in large quantities there is a very strong correlation with inflammation of the gut and a depressed immune system. So if you consume it in very low levels you’re probably not going to suffer from these symptoms, but I always get a little suspect of an additive when I learn that at high levels it can have severely adverse effects.

Almond milk, by the way, is not meant to feel like cows milk in your mouth. Almond milk is naturally more watery because almonds are not cows. So I’m staying away from almond milk with carrageen. In other words, I’m staying away from packaged almond milk.

There are so many foods out there faking it – pretending they are tastier, thicker, less fattening, less sweet…The fakes that I now routinely avoid include:

  • Fake sugar (Equal and it’s evil friends, as well as Stevia, which though an herb, has a horrible aftertaste)
  • Fake thickeners (Pectin and other substances are routinely used in yogurt and soups)
  • Fake flavors (Anything that says “Natural Flavors” would, without this flavor, not taste like you’re expecting it to. Natural flavors are in so many foods that we’ve actually come to believe they’re natural.)
  • Fake oils and butter (I always splurge on the extra 20 calories and use pure butter or olive oil)
  • Fake “meat” (The major player here is TVP (textured vegetable protein) which is extremely highly processed and made from soy, which if organic (and in low quantities is) is fine, but if it is not organic it is almost certainly GMO)

Over to you … any imposters you’d like to report?


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  • Lee-Anne M

    Interesting! Why are you using store bought almond milk? Make your own; it is easy to do and tastes like, 1000 times better than the crap they dish out as almond milk in a carton! It is funny that they want it to have a mouth feel like cow’s milk isn’t it? People you are drinking almond milk just in case you didn’t realise it when you pick it up off the shelf.

    Have you ever looked at the list of rubbish ingredients on a loaf of bread label… that’s when I went out and bought a bread machine. Since when did bread need a list of 50 ingredients, instead of 6? Store bought bread -FAKE! And for that matter, store bought almond milk – FAKE!

    • Michelle Madden

      Ah, very good question. I have made it in the past and will do so again but now w/ a 15 mos old son, I thought I could cut some corners …. You can – you just pay the price in quality …

    • Kim Nichols

      Not to mention the Zen of making your own bread – very satisfying and really not that hard to do.

  • skatzinhatz

    What about the “blueberry bits” in cereal, store purchased muffins, etc? They are NOT blueberries but made from junk, colored blue. Yet one more way the food industries are trying to fool the unsuspecting consumer!

    • Michelle Madden

      In defense of the blueberry, they *might* be simply dehydrated, but if there is no mention of Blueberries in the ingred list, then you’re right, they’re simply artificial lumps dressed up in blueberry clothing.

      • Kim Nichols

        Also consider what chemicals may have been used in the dehydration process. Nothing beats a fresh, plump blueberry – period. If you have to eat them dried, invest in a dehydrator :)

        • Lee-Anne M

          I dehydrated blueberries recently. I cut them up and they still took days! But they were good and not full of fake rubbish!

    • chris

      This is why I read all the ingredients before I buy something even if they say its organic. I learned I have to check to see what they mean by organic.

  • Mary

    I love to make nut milk, but seriously, sometimes I don’t have an extra second to take a deep breath. Life won’t always be this hectic, but as someone allergic to any dairy products from the cow, and intolerant and sensitive to sheep and goat, non-dairy products can be a quick alternative. Though I agree that most have a ridiculously long list of questionable ingredients, you can find a few that are acceptable. I love to make bread, too, but don’t always have the time. Ezekiel bread is healthy compromise.

    • Lee-Anne M

      Mary, I sometimes think my life is too hectic for making good food, like almond milk, bread, kefir and smoothies! But then I remind myself to stop being ridiculous because each of them take less than 10 minutes to do. But I hear what you are saying… sometimes it is all to hard. Just to let you know I have also made hazelnut, brazil nut, macadamia, cashew and pecan milk – all good for someone who is intolerant and allergic to other milks. Your options are endless.

    • chris

      Do you happen to have any nut recipes that you would recommend?

  • Cathy

    There are several brands which do not use carrageenan – Trader Joes and Silk are two of them..


      But take a look at the process of making the Silk Milk and you might stray away…

  • shanmcstan

    I take issue with the initial assertion that unsweetened almond milk in coffee is “repellent”. Of course, this is true if you try using store-bought but homemade almond milk in my coffee is pure bliss. Try it!

    • chris

      Do you have a good recipe you can share?



  • Fred

    Very good article and comments. I ran into the same problem when I looked into (organic) almond milk and also came up with the same conclusion to avoid it….too many undesirable issues involved. If I could get organic, non-pasteurized milk locally that would be nice.

    I have settled for organic Lifeway kefir and, of course, some awesome organic Greek yogurt.

    Stevia can be confusing and downright deceiving,too….not to mention the gross aftertaste. I have found SweetLeaf to be the only choice I can handle. It’s organic, has a nice sweetness and the aftertaste is very pleasant to me, anyway.

    • Lee-Anne M

      Fred, have you ever tried growing/making your own kefir? Super easy and so satisfying! I use liquid SweetLeaf stevia too. But use too much and you are in trouble as with all stevia.

  • Lavabo

    Putrid orange? No way! I’ve been totally addicted to homemade iced almond lattes for the past week, but I checked the ingredients and it’s basically just almond paste and water. I’m in France, though, so the products are really never quite the same as they are in the US…

  • Deirdre

    Starting with packaged almond milk, I’d like to report all attempts at faking dairy products. I’ve gone through my vegan stage, where no single dairy product in NYC seemed clean and fresh-from-the-farm enough for me to want to consume, so their non-cow options seemed a quick and easy solution, but, like you, then I started to read the boxes. With increasing awareness and research, more whole food options (actual foods, not the store by that name) are becoming available. I’m all for cream again, provided it’s fresh, raw from outdoor, organically grass-fed cows.

  • Laura

    I picked up some So Delicious Coconut Milk and found that it worked great in coffee. The mouthfeel was actually very similar to cow’s milk, and it had surprisingly little coconut flavor. The ingredients looked okay to me (basically just coconut milk + carrageenan + guar gum + some extra vitamins), but maybe one of you would tell me otherwise?

  • Heather H

    I use full fat coconut milk from a can (organic) and love it. I love it so much I no longer need any added sweetener in my coffee.

  • Erin

    Another vote for homemade. Go light on the water and it has a pretty rich, creamy texture that goes well in coffee, in my opinion. A totally different food than store bought.

  • Hogs’n’Quiches

    My 22 year old son came in for Christmas and wanted ice cream. I didn’t have any and the stores were closed, but Walgreen’s was open so off he goes. He comes back with their brand and the flavor sounds really good. With the first spoonful I grimaced. The mouth-feel was awful! Of course, he kept spooning it in his mouth! lol I read the ingredients and one of the most prominent was carrageenan. I asked him if he knew what it was and then proceeded with lesson #1. He grimaced. I then asked him how it felt in his mouth. He then said, it’s kind of slimy. Yep! That’s what it does for cheaper ice cream. *shudder*

  • Melissa

    Do you mean pectin itself or fake pectin, because there is a huge difference!