Alternative milks, such as soy, almond and coconut, have become a lot more popular over the years. Those who are lactose intolerant or don't eat products from animals have opted for plant-based products, such as the aforementioned variations on milk.
August Vega has been making alternative milks for years. After starting a job that made it difficult to make her own almond milk at home, she began purchasing the milk from grocery stores, but quickly realized that the ingredients used in store-bought almond milk is not something she wants to put in her body or her family's. Seeking an alternative to these products, Vega and her family decided to go into business together and make plant-based milks. The family launched MALK about a year and a half ago in Houston.
"First of all, we try to avoid anything that doesn't contain a word that's difficult to pronounce because if you can't pronounce it [and] you don't understand what it is, it's probably not something that you want to put in your body -- that's our philosophy," Vega says.
MALK has made its way into a couple of coffee shops in Houston (Brasil and Double Trouble) and now the family-owned business is selling its almond and pecan milks by the quart at the Saturday Urban Harvest Eastside Farmers Market.
"We use five ingredients or less in any of our milks," Vega says. "The nut is the base, whichever one that we are using, filtered water, a touch of sea salt, a very special vanilla in some of them, and we sweeten our milks with organic maple syrup. So there is no refined sugar at all."
Currently, MALK offers an unsweetened almond milk, a sweetened vanilla almond milk and a pecan maple milk featuring Texas-sourced pecans from Rio Grande Organics. The almonds are sourced from California, as these nuts are not grown in Texas.
One of the major differences between MALK's products and other store-bought nut milks is the way the milks are pasteurized and processed.
"The pasteurization process that we use uses cold pressure versus heat and so it retains all of its nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and some of the enzymes that help you digest it and it actually maintains its original flavor a lot better than what you find in the store that's been heated and cooked," Vega says. "They may use a handful of almonds per a big box and we fill ours by the quart and we're using a pretty high density of either almonds or pecans in our milk. It really shines through in the flavor. You're really getting a good kick of taste along with the vitamins and nutrients that correlates that."
And it's true. Both the sweetened and unsweetened almond milks actually taste like almonds -- the touch of vanilla in the sweetened version is a nice enhancement, too. But, one of the most interesting, and we have to assume is one of the most popular flavors, is the pecan milk. Vega says they chose to pair the pecans with organic maple syrup because it complements the nut nicely. None of the milks taste watered down, and each is smooth, fresh and easy to drink.
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Don't expect these milks to have the same nutritional facts as the ones you find on the shelves, though. All of the MALK products have 2 grams of protein per cup, but the unsweetened almond and sweetened almond milks have 10 grams of fat, while the pecan milk has 8 grams of fat. Each serving of sweetened almond milk has 140 calories; Silk vanilla almond milk has 90 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. The unsweetened almond milk has 110 calories per cup and the pecan milk has 120 calories.
"There's varying philosophies on fats and calories -- how you process them and how many you should have each day. When you're drinking or consuming a product that's as close to its natural state as possible and full of enzymes that help you digest those fats and calories, you just tend to burn through it in a different way," Vega says. "If you're taking equivalent calories or fats in a cheeseburger and French fries to the same calories and fats you're having in fresh, delicious pecan milk, your body is going to process that in a much different way. We drink so many servings of our milk per day and honestly we've lost weight. We're not really worried about it."
The nutrients and vitamins in MALK's products are maintained through the unique pasteurization process.
"I think that one of the things that differentiates it from anything else that anyone can find in the market is that we use the high-pressure process to pasteurize it so it is not heated, and other than the higher density of almonds or pecans, the high-pressure process is really providing a much healthier beverage. It's something that we feel really strongly about and feel really excited to send it out into the market."