Sustainable plant-based milk: how macadamia and pea are hitting the right notes

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While the likes of oat and almond have taken the world by storm, plant-based milks from macadamia and pea are riding the sustainability wave.

The alt-dairy brand milkadamia makes its milk by gathering raw macadamia chips, turning them into a paste and then into macadamia milk: “It takes effort to separate the tiny shell chips and macadamia chips, but by doing so, we ensure nothing gets wasted,” says Jim Richards. The shell pieces become part of the biochar used to fertilise their macadamia trees.

Additionally, Richards discusses the benefits of using macadamia trees as opposed to ploughing and reaping annual crops. “Repetitive ploughing and weed control through herbicides degrade the life within our soil and is hastening the loss of vitality and of the very soil itself,” he says. “Trees do the opposite: they bind rather than tear up the soil and do so for decades.”

A major difference between macadamias sourced from trees and milks from annual crops like oat and soy, is the impact on the soil, and the level of mechanical and chemical inputs required, explains Richards. Monocrop farming (annual crops) is a highly industrialised farming process, and typically requires heavy machinery and a lot of water. For example, when looking at almond milk, it reportedly takes a gallon of water to grow each almond. Macadamia milk is therefore a good alternative if you’re looking to lower the water footprint of the milks you consume.

Read our detailed guide to the best oat milks in the UK.

However, it still has a relatively higher water footprint as a nut milk than other alternative milks. Pea milk, for example, such as the brand Ripple, has one-hundredth of the water footprint of almond milk. Compared with other plant-based milks, pea milk is one of the most healthy and sustainable: it has less sugar and saturated fat, but more protein and vitamins like calcium.

sustainable plant based milk
Photo: Mighty Pea/Facebook

Pea milk uses lesser water than any other milk alternative and generates lower greenhouse gas emissions. Peas can utilise nitrogen in the air and make plant cells, meaning they require less fertiliser than other types of plants (lowering its carbon footprint in production).

Pea milk is made from yellow split peas, which are first milled into flour. They are then processed to separate the protein from the fibre and starch. The pea protein is then purified and blended with water and other ingredients. Pea milk is also a useful source of protein (typically 8g of protein per 250ml serving — three times more than almond milk), in addition to being rich in calcium and other nutrients.

Tom Watkins, co-founder of Mighty Pea, explains: “We try and make sure the whole process of making Mighty Pea milk is as environmentally friendly as possible. We think about everything, from making sure our yellow split peas are sourced as close to home as possible to the packaging we use.” The brand currently uses tetra cartons for their milks, which can be recycled.

Discussing the sustainability of pea milk compared to other alternative milks, Watkins says: “The intense water irrigation needed to make almond milk, the deforestation from soy milk and the poor nutritional profile for lots of other plant milks like oat and coconut, have become more exposed to the public eye in the last few years. When you compare the process behind pea milk with the others, it can be really eye-opening.”

Although milks like oat and almond tend to be more popular, plant-based milks such as macadamia and pea milk are far more sustainable in their production processes and nutritional value.

Read our Ultimate Guide to eco-friendly dairy alternatives in 2020.

Yasmin Jafar
Yasmin Jafar
Yasmin is a journalism undergraduate at City, University of London who is a massive foodie — especially for anything dessert- or coffee-based! She’s passionate about food, its history, and researching and reviewing different diets around the world.