Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Figuring Out The Price of Homemade Vegan Milks and Comparing Them To Store Bought- A Chart

 photo milks_zps1k6bnig4.jpg
Left to right- peanut, pistachio, walnut milk, pecan milk, almond milk.
Hi there, Penny is my name and procrastination is my claim to fame. I started working on this blog post already 2 years ago and for one reason or another never got around to finishing it until today.
If you've been a long time reader of my site you'd know that my real claim to fame is to make these incredibly intricate charts calculating the exact cost of the foods you're eating to find out what is cheapest, whether it is figuring out exactly how much you're paying for your meat once you subtract the cost of the bone, or how much cheaper it is to make dried beans than buy canned, and comparing between the prices of the dried beans. Some people think those charts prove my genius, others say it proves just how crazy I am. I say it's a little bit of both. Haha.

I've missed making those charts and calculations.
I lied.
I miss finding out the information I figured out via those charts... But making them? No. They made my brain hurt and made me feel so silly. I, who used to tutor math as a teen and took college math at 15 was having a hard time remembering how to do things like percent change.... Just looking at the chart of numbers gave me a headache... Mommy brain, I guess you'd call it.
But finally a few nights I did something rare- I went to sleep at 10:30 pm instead of my usual midnight to 1:30 bedtime, and consequently woke up this morning bright eyed and bushy tailed, with a fully functioning brain (for the first time in who knows how long) ready to tackle this math and numerous calculations.

So what exactly is it?

Well, I don't eat dairy, but my kids do. Dairy is expensive where I live. Non dairy milks are even more expensive.
I make my own non dairy milks, but honestly, I was wondering if it was even worth the cost, since nuts and such, the usual raw ingredients for making non dairy milks are super expensive as well. But then again, you use relatively small amounts of the raw ingredients to make large amounts of milk... so who knows.
To be honest, lately my kids have been eating lots of cereal and milk (I buy they cereal on sale and it's relatively decent with only 3 ingredients) and I always wonder whether it's cheaper for them to be having it with dairy milk or with a homemade vegan milk alternative. And then sometimes when I'm being lazy I buy store bought vegan milks when they're on sale... And then I wonder how much money I could have saved with some advance preparation and making my own.

So that was the goal of this project.
To figure out how much I am paying for each type of non dairy milk that I know how to make, and compare them to each other and with the types of milk I can buy.

And so I did that. I even looked up how to make all sorts of milks that I'd never even heard of before, and then made them.

I made:
Coconut milk
Sunflower milk
Peanut milk
Almond milk
Buckwheat milk
Cashew milk
Walnut milk
Pistachio milk
Pumpkin seed milk
Hemp seed milk
Hazelnut milk
Brazil nut milk
Sesame milk.

I didn't include rice milk, since I have yet to find a recipe/method that I like (it usually ends up tasting like watered down pureed rice, never like anything remotely like milk). Nor did I include oat milk, since I am sensitive to oats, nor did I make quinoa milk... just because.
I tried making flax milk, but it was just about the grossest thing I've ever tasted, so that didn't make it to my chart.
As for the tastes of all the other milks- they all tasted decent- I wouldn't go for one or the other based on taste alone. Though if I had to pick, I probably liked the taste of cashew milk the best.

So once I made all those milks, watering them down till they "tasted right to me" (sorry, not more scientific than that- I didn't want them watery or thick tasting, just "milky"), I calculated how many grams of the raw ingredients were needed to make each cup of milk, and then figured out price per gallon, and made this into a chart.
And of course, after I did that, I learned that there is a more efficient way to make nut milks, getting even more milk from the same amount of nuts/seeds- running them through the food processor with water once, straining them, then running them through the food processor with more water) so did that with almond milk and figured out what percentage more milk I get doing it that way. I didn't feel like doing that again with all the 9 other nut/seed milks (I made enough of a mess in my kitchen the first time around) so based on the percent extra of almond milk I got, I guestimated the percent extra milk I'd make should I use the same technique on the other milks. On my chart, I labeled this 2nd, and all but the almond milk's 2nds are guestimates.

I also included homemade soy milk's price per cup, based on results I found on the internet (I don't eat soy, so I didn't make it for this experiment, but decided to include it for comparison's sake), as well as the prices of the various store bought milks locally, both dairy and vegan.
Milk TypeGramsCups$/lb$/batch$/C$/C 2nd$/gal~$/gal 2nd
Sunflower seeds (bulk)0.154$1.95$0.50$0.16$0.11$2.57$1.75
Sunflower seeds0.154$3.25$0.64$0.27$0.18$4.29$2.91
Cow Milk$0.32$5.12
Coconut (bulk)$2.26$0.64$10.27
Bought Soy$0.81$12.96
Bought Coconut$0.84$13.44
Bought Almond$0.84$13.44
Bought Hazelnut$0.97$15.52
Pumpkin seeds0.151.75$5.84$1.93$1.10$0.75$17.63$11.99
Hemp seeds0.12.75$15.00$1.20$0.82$19.20$13.06
Brazil nuts0.152$10.13$3.34$1.67$1.14$26.74$18.19

I have to say that the result of this experiment astounded me.
I hadn't realized that I was paying more for my homemade almond milk than I was for store bought almond milk, let alone when the store bought almond milk was on sale. And that all homemade nut milks are more expensive per gallon than all the store bought vegan milks.
However, there is another factor to keep in mind that its not just about the price. The homemade nut milks are still healthier than the store bought ones, since the store bought vegan milks are often filled with lots of junk, as well as questionable ingredients.
Then there's the point that can't be neglected- that if you save the pulp from making your milks, and cook with them, you may be paying more per gallon of milk, but you end up also with the milk and also with the pulp which can be used for baking. Almond flour and other nut flours, for example, are expensive products in the store, and when making your own homemade nut milks, you end up getting both the milk and the flour, something you aren't getting when buying the nut milk in the store.

I have to do some thinking about what I want to be doing now that I know this. I think I still will prefer to make my own nut milks instead of buying them, for the health reasons, and the fact that I get nut flours for the same price, so I think it works out to be a better deal. But at the same time, now that I know that bottom line, one milk compared to the other, store bought vegan milks are cheaper, I won't guilt trip myself about all that wasted money when I just don't have the energy to make these milks myself and instead use the store bought stuff- especially when it was bought on sale for cheaper than the prices listed here.

In realizing how much cheaper it is per cup of soy milk than it is for any other type of milk, I have started thinking that maybe I should start making chickpea milk again- which would probably cost similarly to the soy milk- something I haven't done in a while, since it feels like a lot more work than my other types of homemade milk... but if it is actually that much cheaper, maybe it is worth the work?

Another thing I realized is that I need to start buying coconut and sunflower seeds in bulk again. They were my standard go-to non dairy milks, and when using coconut and sunflower seeds bought in bulk, they were much cheaper than any store bought vegan milks, and sunflower seed milk even significantly cheaper than cow milk. I'd stopped buying them in bulk because their pulps gave me stomach issues (though I was fine with the milk) and I felt I was wasting money by throwing out their pulp, but now I see that even without using any pulp, it is still worth it to buy them in bulk for making my vegan milks.

Of all the vegan milks, sesame milk is the easiest to make, with no advance preparation required, and I see quite clearly how much cheaper it is, both than regular milks, and especially cheaper than other vegan milks (with the exception of soy, buckwheat, and sunflower seeds in bulk), so if I am looking for something cheaper for my kids to have with their cereal, this is it (assuming they will agree to it). However, sesame milk doesn't really work well for certain cooked recipes (like white sauces- it separates), so I can't use it everywhere (though it does work in most baked goods in place of other milks).

I always felt that since coconut was so much cheaper than nuts, if I wanted to save money I was better off making coconut milk than nut milks when I needed a vegan milk, but now I actually am seeing from this chart that the amount of milk you get from nuts is significantly more than that from coconut, especially if you use the second's method, so it works out much cheaper to make many nut milks than coconut milk, even more so if you use the seconds method! This was shocking for me to learn, and will be a true game changer for me. Of course- none of this applies if I buy the coconut in bulk, because then it will the other way around- significantly cheaper to make coconut milk than most other milks.

And lastly- I should start making buckwheat milk again. I only made it once, and it was for this cost comparison, but since it is so cheap, maybe it should become a staple in our house. Or maybe not, since we do use a ton of buckwheat (it's my go to gluten free grain, especially for baking) and maybe diversifying is good.

So now that you have my thoughts and lessons that I learned from this- now how do you apply this to your life, because your cost comparisons won't be the same as mine- it all depends on the prices of milks in your area as well as well as of the raw ingredients available to make these milks?

Easy- I did all the math for you below. You just need to find out the price per pound of the ingredients listed, and then divide them by the listed number to find out price per cup, or multiply it by the listed number to find out price per gallon. I've included the way to figure out approximate price per cup and per gallon using the seconds method.

Milk Type$/C$/gal~$/c 2nds~$/gal 2nds
Pistachio$/lb / 9.65$/lb * 1.65$/lb / 14.19$/lb * 1.1
Hazelnut$/lb / 6.24$/lb * 2.56$/lb / 9.21$/lb * 1.74
Cashews$/lb / 7.58$/lb * 2.11$/lb / 11.13$/lb * 1.45
Walnuts$/lb / 5.69$/lb * 2.81$/lb / 8.33$/lb * 1.92
Peanuts$/lb / 7.58$/lb * 2.11$/lb / 11.03$/lb * 1.45
Pecans$/lb / 6.04$/lb * 2.65$/lb / 8.90$/lb * 1.8
Brazil Nuts$/lb / 6.07$/lb * 2.63$/lb / 5.12$/lb * 3.13
Pumpkin seeds$/lb / 5.30$/lb * 3.02$/lb / 7.79$/lb * 2.05
Almonds$/lb / 6.09$/lb * 1.97$/lb / 8.85$/lb * 1.81
Sunflower seeds$/lb / 12.05$/lb * 1.33$/lb / 18.06$/lb * 0.89
Buckwheat$/lb / 10$/lb * 1.6
Hemp seeds$/lb / 12.5$/lb * 1.28
coconut$/lb / 3.56$/lb * 4.49
Sesame$/lb / 11.77
Cow Milk$/gal /16
Bought Hazelnut$/gal /16
Bought Almond$/gal /16
Bought Soy$/gal /16
Bought Coconut$/gal /16

Just plug in your prices, figure out cost per cup or per gallon, then do the comparisons for yourself to see which is cheaper, and therefore factor that in to what is more worth your while. (Don't forget to factor in taste preference and amount of work as well.)

Now I know some of you will probably talk about the nutritional aspect, that you can't just look at the prices of these and ignore the nutritional content.
Well, I do. Because, honestly, I think all milks, not matter what they are made from, are pretty empty nutritionally, especially vegan milks. I mean cow milk does have some nutrition (more so than any of the other milks on this list, pretty much), but it has many other problems, including the fact that many, many, many people are sensitive to dairy, as well as the fact that commercial dairy is filled with all kinds of nasties- and if you want to go with organic milk or raw milk, your prices will increase exponentially.
And because with these homemade milks, its hard for me to be able tell you definitively how much nutrition is in them, because I don't know what percentage goes into the milk and what percent stays in the pulp. The only homemade vegan milk that I can tell you its nutritional facts is sesame milk, which I've shown in another post, has more calcium in it than cow dairy... But other than that, quite frankly, I don't know.
I don't look to milks, any of them, for nutrition. I get nutrition to my family in other ways, and view milk just as an extra, to make things taste good.
If you want to know the nutritional content of these, and have a way of figuring out price per gram of protein or price per mg of calcium, then you're smarter than I'll ever be, and I don't mind hearing what answers you come up with.

And last but not least- here's how you make each of the milks mentioned above:
Nut and seed milks: almond, walnut, pistachio, hazelnut, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts. pecans, cashews, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts- made with this method.
Coconut milk: using this recipe.
Sesame milk: this recipe.
Soy milk and chickpea milk: using this method.
Buckwheat milk: here's the recipe.

I hope you liked this chart and find these calculations useful for you in deciding what kind of milk to serve your family.

What kind of milk or milk substitute do you tend to use? Do you use homemade or store bought? Is the reason you use the type of milk you use for health reasons, cost reasons, or convenience reasons? 
Plugging in real time numbers of the costs of various raw ingredients where you live to my chart above, have you learned that what you thought was frugal was actually not getting the most for your money, and now you want to try doing something different? If so- what did you used to do, and what do you think you'll be doing differently in the future?
Do you have any good recipe for rice milk that actually tastes milky and not like a watered down pureed rice?

Linking up to Allergy Free Wednesday


  1. I use raw dairy milk because I live next to a dairy who sells it to me cheaply. It is conventionally raised, so I am sacrificing some health for convenience and price. I am thankful for the raw milk though. Thanks for doing the work for us and writing about it. -Daniellle

  2. Wow. That is fascinating. Thank you for all the work.

    And for some reason "cow milk" made me laugh hysterically. Obviously I need more sleep. Or something.

    I'm not sensitive to any food, luckily, and like soy milk so make my own. Good to know it's cheap! If I need dairy (as a baker, I do) then I use milk powder and sometimes make that up for coffee milk. Regular heavy cream, lots of that too.

  3. Our allergies don't include dairy (and DO include all the nuts you've used) but still, I think this is awesome. Must crunch the numbers and find out what works best--you sound like my kind of person! I'm very experimental and numbers-oriented, even though I went in more creative directions, so it's cool to see somebody else like me! I'll be pinning this to our Dairy Free pinterest board for our Allergy Superheroes business. Thanks so much for sharing, great work!

  4. P.S. I don't see your sesame milk in your chart. Was that line accidentally omitted? Thanks!

  5. I do soy milk! I get the beans for $2/lb, and use one pound per gallon. Then I use the pulp for "crab" cakes. Super cheap! I am curious about the sesame milk!


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