The Best And Worst Almond Milks You Can Buy At The Grocery Store

Genetic research is changing our understanding of the human body at a rapid pace. Nutrigenetics have arisen to study how nutrition affects different bodies. Things like gluten intolerance and nut allergies can often be linked back to a person's DNA. And researchers have also discovered an interesting fact about dairy intolerance: The ability to digest milk is actually a genetic mutation, with the norm being to lose the ability to digest dairy products after weaning off of breast milk.

That's one reason for the prevalence of dairy-free and dairy-alternative products. Walk through any grocery store, and you'll see non-dairy items. One of the easiest-to-find dairy alternatives seems to be almond milk. Setting aside the jokes about "how do you milk an almond," the dairy alternative is a popular option for people who want to avoid dairy, but find their cereal, cookies, and coffee losing their luster without a generous swig of milk.

Not all almond milks are the same. In addition to different ingredients, there's a variety of flavors, textures, and nutrients to consider before you decide which package to put in your cart. If you're wanting to give this beverage a try, but don't know where to begin, allow us to break down some of the best and worst brands of almond milk that you'll commonly find in grocery store aisles.

Best: Almond Breeze

You've probably seen the Blue Diamond brand on packaged almonds. The jump from almonds to almond milk was a natural one. Blue Diamond's Almond Breeze is probably one of the easiest almond milk brands to find in a variety of grocery stores. It has a hint of nutty flavor and no weird aftertaste that some almond milks end up with. It comes in a variety of flavors, including the standard vanilla and chocolate, as well as more unusual combos like almond-coconut and almond-banana. The brand has also expanded into almond milk-based yogurts, coffee creamers, and even eggnog, er, almond-nog.

Like many almond milks, Almond Breeze has the benefits of being naturally lower in calories and sugars than dairy milk. Also like most almond milks, it's fortified to make up for nutrients it lacks. Almond Breeze boasts 50% more calcium than milk, and is also a good source of vitamin E. So just because you're dropping the dairy doesn't mean you have to sacrifice nutrition.

Worst: Earth's Own

You can make homemade almond milk with just almonds and water. This mixture, however, will go bad in a week or less. Many store-bought almond milks add gums and other additives to help their drinks last longer and to add flavor or thickness. Unfortunately, these additives aren't always the healthiest ingredients, so you'll want to check the ingredient list before buying any brand of almond beverage.

Earth's Own unsweetened almond beverage has several additives, making it a less appealing choice than other brands. These additives include gums, like gellan gum and locust bean gum, which are controversial as there's disagreement about whether they're helpful or harmful. Earth's Own almond also is made with canola oil, which has its fair share of controversy.

When picking an almond milk, the ingredients used are going to impact both the taste and the effect on your body. If you're concerned about choosing the healthiest option, you may want to find a brand that minimizes additives. Given how many controversial ingredients Earth's Own brand has, we had to put it on the worst list.

Best: New Barn

New Barn almond milk isn't one of the more well-known almond milk brands, but it can be found at many Whole Foods stores. It's pretty popular among people who have tried it. With the amount of water needed to make almond milk, it's easy for a recipe to be watery, but New Barn has managed to avoid that and the end result has a thicker consistency without many additives.

On top of the taste and consistency, New Barn has won over fans with its eco-consciousness. According to the company's website, it's continuously researching to find better, more sustainable, and Earth-friendly packaging. While many companies like to appear concerned with the environment just to appeal to customers, New Barn seems to be putting real time and effort into doing what they can for the health of the planet. This makes New Barn an almond milk you can feel good about drinking.

Worst: Almond Dream

Dream brand makes non-dairy drinks with rice, soy, oats, coconuts, and, of course, almonds. On top of the Almond Dream almond beverage, the Dream company makes almond-milk ice cream. Oddly enough, not all of their almond-based products are actually dairy-free, as some of the chocolate they use may contain dairy. While these products definitely taste good, what's not great is what's listed in the ingredients: carrageenan.

Carrageenan sounds like it should be healthy, as it comes from a kind of seaweed. However just because an ingredient is derived from a plant doesn't mean it's healthy. Some studies have shown that carrageenan is carcinogenic. Despite this risk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't banned the use of it in most foods.

Almond Dream's use of this possibly-dangerous ingredient is a concern for buyers. Carrageenan can be found in many products, and the more you consume, the greater the risk of experiencing negative effects. With so many other carrageenan-free options, Almond Dream probably shouldn't be your first choice for almond milk.

Best: Elmhurst

You won't easily find another brand with as few ingredients as this one. Elmhurst Milked Almonds leaves out the fluff to give you just the key ingredients: almonds and water. It doesn't get any cleaner than that. Elmhurst is the brand that people find tastes the most like homemade almond milk, probably because most people don't make their homemade almond milk with preservatives, gums, and artificial flavors, and neither does Elmhurst.

Despite just being almonds and water, this is not a watery drink. Elmhurst's top secret milk-making process creates a naturally thick and flavorful beverage. The company also brags about the fact that its almond milk contains up to four times as many almonds as other brands. And let's face it, if your almond milk doesn't have a lot of almonds in it, that's kind of an epic almond milk fail.

Elmhurst doesn't dabble in different flavored almond milk like other brands, but the company does make other kinds of nut milk. You can try walnut milk, cashew milk, peanut milk, and hazelnut milk. If you're not feeling nutty, it also has different flavors of oat milk.

Worst: Engine 2 Plant-Strong

The Plantstrong company is passionate about plants and their health properties. "We envision a world that universally understands, promotes, and prescribes plants as the solution to eliminating chronic disease and enhancing performance," says the Plant-Strong website. To that end, the founder created the Engine 2 diet, which encourages plant-based eating. 

Engine2 Plant-Strong almond milk is almost entirely made of plant ingredients, which makes it not just dairy free, but gluten free, low sugar, low sodium, and vegan. Unfortunately, the ingredients include carrageenan, which does come from a plant (seaweed), but as we talked about before, carrageenan could harm your health. So Plant-Strong might have missed the mark when it comes to promoting health.

On top of that, some people find the almond milk to be somewhat bland. If you're using this for a base of a smoothie with lots of fruits or other flavors, it could work. But if you're looking for an almond milk to drink straight, this isn't the one.

Best: Simply Almond

The Simply brand got its start in juices, making natural fruit juices without a lot of additives. Moving into almond milk, the brand brought that same idea of simple ingredients. Its Simply Almond unsweetened original almond milk has only four ingredients. Each includes almonds, water, and sea salt, while the sweetened varieties have cane sugar and the vanilla-flavored almond milk has vanilla extract. Like their juices, this dedication to simple ingredients lets the natural flavors shine.

The only downside is that all of their varieties include "natural flavors," which is a purposefully vague term. Most companies use this wording to protect their recipe from competitors, but the lack of transparency does give some customers pause. It makes some customers wonder what a company is trying to hide. It sounds better than the phrase "artificial flavor," but in reality both are created in labs and neither one has real nutritional benefits. If you're a consumer trying to avoid certain foods, both phrases are equally a pain in the neck to decipher. 

Worst: Pacific Foods

You may be more familiar with this brand for its broths rather than its drinks, but it's ventured into the non-dairy milk territory in a big way. The boast of Pacific Foods almond beverage is that it roasts its almonds, giving the milk a toasted almond taste. This, however, does something to the color, making it a yellow hue that people associate with sour milk. It also has white flecks that sometimes appear at the top of almond milk. We use multiple senses when eating, so the appearance of the food is an important consideration.

Pacific Foods also doesn't have a standard across their products, so you have to check each one for troublesome ingredients. For example, Pacific Foods' regular almond milk doesn't have carrageenan, but the Barista almond milk for coffee does. The almond milk is gluten-free, but their hemp milk contains gluten. If you decide to go with this brand, don't assume that because one product is safe from certain ingredients that another product from this same brand will be, too.

Best: Mand'Or

Mand'Or's almond milk can be a little harder to find than the others on this list. In the United States, it's currently only available in the New York area. That's because it's imported from Italy and is made with Italian almonds. Fancy! 

We felt this brand had to make the best list for its one unique ingredient. There are lots of healthier (and sometimes surprising) ways to add sweetness with natural ingredients, and instead of turning to sugar or artificial sweeteners, this almond milk uses organic grape juice to create a tantalizingly sweet flavor. 

If the grape juice bit weirds you out too much, the company also makes a calcium-enriched almond milk sweetened with cane sugar. This is a sweeter almond drink than many of the others — especially those that come in an unsweetened version. You don't normally expect to find juice in milk, but in this case, it works.

Worst: Natura

The undeniable fact is that most almonds have a naturally bitter taste. Some almond milks have created recipes that allow the drink to avoid a bitter flavor. Unfortunately, many people feel Natura's almond beverage failed on this task, thanks to a bitter aftertaste that makes it less enjoyable to drink. If the almond milk was bitter because of using minimal ingredients, it could be a little more forgivable, but that isn't the case in Natura.

Natura's website is quick to tell you what isn't in Natura almond milk: carrageenan, gluten, trans fats, cholesterol, or canola oil. What isn't posted prominently on the website is what ingredients are present, including three kinds of gum stabilizers: guar gum, gellan gum, and xanthan gum.

Xanthan gum is in, well, a lot of things. More than a food additive, it can be found in your toiletries like toothpaste and shampoo, as well as cleaning supplies. Xanthan gum doesn't usually cause problems, but eating higher amounts can cause unpleasant symptoms like bloating and gas. With xanthan gum being in so many products, you could easily ingest more than you think you have, and end up with an unhappy tummy.

Best: Three Trees

Three Trees is another brand that can brag about using only the most necessary ingredients. Its original almond milk flavor has only almonds and water, and the vanilla bean variety adds only vanilla extract and vanilla beans. It's organic, it's minimal ingredients, and it tastes good, so what more do you need? (That's not a rhetorical question. We're about to tell you!)

Three Trees makes a unique flavor of almond milk: black sesame. The black sesame seeds (you know, the reason everything bagels taste so good) give this drink a delightful toastiness. They're also naturally high in calcium. Combined with sea salt and dates for a touch of sweetness, this almond milk has a full-bodied flavor.

Our only warning: Be prepared for a workout to get the best flavor. Because there are no stabilizers holding everything together, the ingredients may separate. You're going to have to shake vigorously each time you want to pour yourself some almond milk. Worth it!

Worst: Malk

On paper, Malk almond milk looks great. It has minimal ingredients, with the original flavor including only water, almonds, and sea salt. Malk is one of the only companies to sprout its almonds before using them. Sprouting makes nuts easier to digest and more nutritionally beneficial. For all these reasons, it should be on the best list, right?

Regrettably, while Malk is touted by nutritionists and careful consumers for its ideal ingredients, many people are not in love with Malk's taste. Even people who give Malk high ratings focus on the ingredients, not the flavor. Complaints range from a gritty texture to a sour flavor.

An almond milk that tastes great but is full of unhealthy ingredients isn't going to do your body any favors. On the other hand, an almond milk that only has the best ingredients but you won't drink because of the taste doesn't do you much better. Maybe some day Malk will figure out a way to improve its flavor while maintaining its healthy recipe, and then we will excitedly welcome it to the list of the best almond milks!

Best: Silk

Silk almond milk isn't ideal on the ingredient side of things, since it includes stabilizer gums and natural flavors, but it does have other benefits. It's fortified with calcium, having 50% more than milk. It also comes in varieties with less sugar as well as unsweetened.

A big problem some people have with almond milks is that most of them don't work well in coffees. Many almond milks separate or change consistency when added to a hot beverage. Non-dairy milks also tend not to foam due to low amounts of protein, and protein is what keeps the foam from separating

Some brands have gotten around this by making a special barista version that works better in coffee. But if you want one almond milk that you can drink straight as well as add to your coffee, Silk almond milk is the way to go. It has a smooth, silky texture (hence the name) and it manages to froth better than other brands of almond milk, despite not having more protein. However they managed that, frothy coffee fans are grateful.

Best: Califia Farms

Califia Farms almond milk seems to rank high on most people's taste tests. While it is more expensive than other brands, the taste and creamy consistency reminds people of cow's milk. And the brand is named for a mythical warrior queen, so you can feel like a badass while you drink it.

Califia Farms manages to get a great taste without using as much sugar as other brands. The toasted coconut almond milk has no sugar, using monk fruit to sweeten the flavor. Monk fruit is new enough to the sweetener scene that it is still being studied, but so far, it seems to be a positive alternative to processed sugars. It also doesn't have the unpleasant aftertaste of artificial sweeteners.

Califia Farms' plastic bottles are made in a dairy-free facility, but the cartons and some of the company's plant butters are made in a facility that also process dairy. While this may be a concern for people with a dairy allergy, the Califia Farms website explains that their facilities use a third-party verified process to remove any possibility of cross-contamination. On top of that, their products are gluten-free, BPA-free, carrageenan-free, vegan, Kosher, and non-GMO, so you can feel as good about what you're not drinking as what you are.