I consider "Milk" to be the substance secreted by living being to sustain their young, whether they be human, cow, dog, etc...

Almonds do not produce milk to sustain their young, in fact they are simply crushed. This reminds me more of juice than milk. So why don't people call it "Almond Juice"? Wouldn't this be more accurate?

The only reason I can think of as to why they would call it Milk would be to attempt to market it as a "milk alternative". Is that all there is to it? Or is there some defining feature that actually makes it fit the definition?

Looks like I'm not the only one who finds this strange.

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    Juice is the liquid already in vegetable matter, so that doesn't really work either.
    – SourDoh
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 23:10
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    Just a curiosity: do "coconut milk" and "animal milk" share the same word also in languages of lands where coconuts grow natively? Or is it just a English or European misnomer, which happened when they first saw coconut milk in the modern era and named it after what it looked like the most? Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 7:29
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    Why is cake not called bread? Why is stew not called soup? As most things in the culinary world, ingredients and dishes are called certain names so they are easy to understand. There's nothing ambiguous about "Almond milk" and most people will immediately guess how it is made without knowing it before. What is rice flour? It's like wheat flour but made of rice. What is rice milk? It's like milk, but made of rice.
    – ecc
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 12:42
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    @FighterJet Fine. Bell peppers, then. Or courgettes. Squashes. Cucumbers. The usual list. We all know that botanical fruits aren't necessarily culinary fruits. Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 8:54
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    @FighterJet Fruit means part of a plant, vegetable mean use in savory dishes. They are not mutually exclusive. Tomatoes are both. When cooking, you don't give a damn about where they came from, you care about where to put them, that's why most people call it a vegetable in a kitchen (but fruit in the garden).
    – Agent_L
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 16:06

5 Answers 5


One reason is simple appearance, I think - opaque white liquids or saps have long been called "milky", including nut milks, coconut milk, dandelion or milk thistle saps, and several other white substances. Nut milks get called milk because they look like milk to the eye.

Another reason is that nut milks behave like milks in recipes - they are emulsions with sugars, proteins, and fats... fruit juices tend to have nutrients and sugars, mostly, they behave rather differently in cooking. Almond milk was a long held substitute for animal milk in medieval times because it was more reliable - the nuts would be shelf-stable, while actual milk could spoil within hours. It is worth pointing out that nut milks were substitute for so long because they worked in dishes calling for milk, at both the chemical level and for rough flavor profiling.

Also, it is probably worth noting that nut milks taste like milk, as well - a mellow flavor, very mild and a bit rich. The flavor isn't strong or sweet like other juices. They are different from cow's milk, true, but perhaps nut milks are not immensely more different from cow's milk than it is different from sheep's milk or goat's milk.

In the end, nut milks get called milk because they seem similar, and there's no other category they fit into more neatly. If it is to label them as an alternative, it is a very old label, and for an alternative that works very well in nearly all applications.

Ps: if it helps, the nutrients extracted from the almonds into the milk were produced by the parent tree and intended to sustain the baby almond-plant... so the major difference is that the plant stores the milk in solid form, not whether it was meant for the next generation or not

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    "Almond milk was a long held substitute for animal milk in medieval times " Today I learned. Had no idea it had been a concept for that long.
    – Shadow
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 23:59
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    Also, coconuts produce both milk and juice. Coconut juice it the water contained in green coconuts. That water gets absorbed to create the flesh of the fruit (the more flesh the less water). When the coconut turns brown and dry then it's ready for milking. The milk is water squeezed out from the flesh (typically also adding a bit of tap water to help the process along). So for coconut we use "milk" to distinguish it from "juice/water".
    – slebetman
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 7:25
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    In places where you can regularly get fresh coconut people also distinguish the more thick/creamy first press of the coconut milk (coconut cream?) and the more thin/watery second press.
    – slebetman
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 7:27
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    Answer is 100% correct in my opinion, but I'd like to add that I think it was Lewis Black who observed we call it milk not juice because the thought of drinking Nut Juice is enough to make anyone gag. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 18:53
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    "Milk" from plants is such a part of our language that even beyond milkweed and milk thistle, one might look for the milk-named Lactuca genus that has since become known as lettuce. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 19:40

I consider "Milk" to be the substance secreted from living being to sustain their young, whether they be human, cow, dog, etc...

Other people consider "milk" to have a wider definition than this. The Oxford English Dictionary (subscription required) gives a number of definitions of "milk" that are relevant to cooking:

1a. A whitish fluid, rich in fat and protein, secreted by the mammary glands of female mammals (including humans) for the nourishment of their young, and taken from cows, sheep, etc., as an article of the human diet.

2a. A milky juice or latex present in the stems or other parts of various plants, which exudes when the plant is cut, and is often acrid, irritant, or toxic. Also: [specifically] the drinkable watery liquid found in the hollow space inside the fruit of the coconut.

5a. A culinary, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, or other preparation resembling milk, esp. in colour. Usually with the principal ingredient or use specified by a preceding or following word. [Here, it specifically mentions soya milk, rice milk, almond milk and a number of alarming medical preparations from former times, such as "milk of mercury".]

5b. milk of almonds = almond milk

7. [originally North American] Strong alcoholic drink, often of a particular type, esp. whisky or beer. Sometimes with a preceding word suggestive of strength or ferocity, as in cougar milk, wild-mare's milk, etc.

For example, Wiktionary gives similar definitions, as will any other dictionary you might care to consult. Your assertion that milk is only the substance mammals use to feed their young is an example of what is known as the etymological fallacy: the belief that, because a word originally meant one particular thing, it must only mean that particular thing today.

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    #7: Mudder's Milk Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 14:41

Your definition for the word is not sufficiently broad. After all- coconut milk is a thing and it's more like juice than almond and rice milk are.

These liquids are called milk because they are milky: white, opaque, sometimes have protein and fat.

Either way, they aren't much like juice. The nuts aren't just crushed. They are ground and then soaked in water to leach out the good stuff.

  • I would argue that coconut milk isn't really milk either though. It being called the same thing because they look roughly similar seems a bit odd (eg, flour and sugar are white powders) but it seems to be correct in this instance...
    – Shadow
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 23:46
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    Coconut milk isn't like juice -- it's the result of grinding up the nut meat and water, then simmering and straining ... which is very similar to how almond milk is made. You might be thinking about what they're now calling 'coconut water', which is the liquid from the inside of the coconut. And if you get the stuff that's in aseptic packaging (vs. canned), it's typically 'coconut milk beverage' which is more watered down, and might be flavored (vanilla or chocolate) and/or sweetened and typically has stabilizers (eg, guar gum). I won't even get into coconut cream & cream of coconut.
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 1:12
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    @shadow You're not really going to have much luck here as long as you keep insisting that your specific definition of milk is correct. Your question is about common usage that doesn't fit your definition, so clearly your definition is incomplete. I'd focus on asking how the full definition (encompassing things like coconut milk) makes sense, not on arguing against it.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 5:43

It's called "milk" because that is what it most resembles in taste, texture and appearance, and it is also used as a substitute for people who can't or don't want to drink traditional cow's milk.

The choice of what they call it is strictly a product marketing decision, so strict scientific accuracy is not a consideration. What a biologist might refer to as "milk" is not a consideration.

From a cultural viewpoint, the stuff that Taco Bell churns out in no way resembles the actual foodstuffs they are named after. Vegetarian "burgers" are not all that much like the meat "burgers" they take their name from. The green "wasabi" you get at most Asian/Japanese sushi eateries contains no actual wasabi. There is often confusion when talking about what the layperson thinks of as a "theory" vs how science uses the term. Society is filled with examples everywhere of terms that are used that don't strictly fit a technical or scientific definition.

The name is chosen for familiarity and a convenient point of reference for consumers.

I don't think "juice" would not be more accurate, since almonds are seeds/nuts, not fruits or vegetables.

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    "The choice of what they call it is strictly a product marketing decision" - not sure that's the whole truth, given that names for foods generally go back way before serious product marketing decisions from sizable companies.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 17:38
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    @Cascabel- If, for millenia, it was called "Almond Milk" and PR focus groups found that people with disposable income were more likely to buy it if it was called "Nectar," we'd be answering a question about why they call it nectar when it doesn't really come from a flower. The point of technical accuracy having zero bearing holds, even if your point about historical context were true. There was a long history and identity of "stewardesses" and "garbage men," yet now they're called "flight attendants" and "sanitation engineers." If there ever is a health scare/scandal, the name will change. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 18:26
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    I'm not saying I disagree with your entire answer, just the notion that this is about marketing and PR groups. Sure, in some sense it's technically correct, in that manufacturers do choose what to put on a product label, but saying it's solely their marketing decision is ignoring the underlying reasons that it's actually a reasonable name, i.e. why it's the term in the English language.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 18:36
  • So, more so with the overly-strong tone from the inclusion of the word "strictly," sounds like. That's fair. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 18:42
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    @AndrewMattson You seem to have misunderstood the FDA. Their definition is for the product called "milk". We are talking about the product called "almond milk". You couldn't market almond milk as just "milk" in the US because it doesn't meet the FDA's definition of the product called "milk". But you clearly can call it "almond milk" because that product is widely available in the US under that name. Almond milk is "a milk" but it is not "milk". Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 15:12

An edible almond is rather dry - and part of it (the shell) is even inedible and not useful to make food of at all. If you just pressed it, without adding water and heat, you would likely end up with impure almond oil and not a thin liquid like almond milk is. This would be like pressing dried beef instead of milking a cow and expecting milk. The same applies to rice, grains, cashews (where using the whole fruit would be actually poisonous!) and most other sources of plant milks.

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