Whatever your reaction may be to the idea of vegan dairy substitutes—intrigued, turned off, all in—it’s certainly a great way to polarize people. Some may just feel confused—am I supposed to be avoiding dairy? What’s wrong with the real thing? Why would I go to the trouble of making cream out of cashews?
By now, most people are familiar with plant-based alternatives such as almond, soy, cashew, or rice milk, which seem to be crowding out traditional milk on the dairy isle. Sales of the iconic beverage have declined nearly 40% since the 1970s, while milk substitutes have exploded into a 2 billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone.
And it’s only gaining momentum, so it’s no surprise the dairy industry is squirming. In fact, this historic institution seems to be scrambling. After a 20 year reign, one of the longest-running and most recognizable slogans of all time, Got Milk?, was dropped for Milk Life. Not only is big dairy trying to revamp its image, it’s fighting back with a legislative bill pressuring the FDA to enforce the legal definition of the word milk. The Dairy Pride Act challenges the nutritional validity of plant-based milks, siting that most Americans already fail to get the daily recommended intake for good health. The act also argues that calling these alternatives “milk” is misleading and confusing to consumers.
These points seem flimsy at best, and aren’t holding up against growing consumer awareness of dairy’s negative impact on health and the environment. Of course there are arguments on both sides, but when it comes to nutrition, the belief that we need dairy for calcium or other health reasons is outdated. In fact, the calcium in leafy greens is more bioavailable than in milk, meaning it’s better absorbed by the body.
What’s the bottom line? Nutritionally speaking, no one needs dairy. Many people just prefer it. And all trendiness aside, the huge movement away from milk speaks for itself. It’s easy to adopt plant-based alternatives when they’re wholly satisfying and delicious, which brings me to cashew cream. Made with two ingredients—cashews and water—it couldn’t be simpler or fit better into a whole-foods diet. It’s the perfect all-purpose ingredient to keep in your fridge to add creaminess to sauces, dollop on chili, or give richness to your favorite desserts. It can be made savory with garlic and spices, or like this recipe, sweetened with a touch of maple syrup and vanilla and layered into a refreshing berry parfait.
-2 cups raw, unsalted cashews, soaked
-¾ cup water
-1 tsp maple syrup, or more to taste
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-Fresh berries, sliced banana, cacao nibs, slivered almonds for layers
Note: makes 2 cups of cashew cream, store extra in fridge for up to 5 days.
-Cover raw cashews with water and let soak in fridge overnight. Or to speed up process, pour boiling water over cashews and let sit 1-2 hours.
-Drain cashews and place in a high-powered blender with ¾ cup water, vanilla, and maple syrup. Blend on high until smooth and creamy. More or less water can be used to reach desired thickness.
-Layer in a glass container with other ingredients.
Ashley Sigmund is Paste’s Recipe for Fitness columnist. She is a Denver-based dietitian promoting wellness through whole foods and plant-based nutrition.