Milk alternatives have been making headway in recent years as a creamy option free from dairy and lactose but full on flavor. Almond, coconut, rice, oat and hemp milks have moved up the ranks from health store niche players to mainstream all stars. What makes milk alternatives so great? They can be used any way that dairy or goat milk is used, offering a base for sauces, baked goods, and creamy beverages, while remaining vegan, plant-based, and suitable for those with dairy intolerances.
Missing from that all-star list is one of our favorites: Seed Milk. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds can be processed in the same way as almond and other nut milks to create a milk beverage with a slightly sweet, roasted flavor. Seed milk can make for a refreshing change from almond or cashew milk and can also be enjoyed by anyone who can enjoy seeds; it offers a new way to incorporate a boost of micronutrients, like magnesium, zinc, iron and phosphorus, into your day.
Homemade seed milk can be made in no time with the use of a mesh bag (such as a nut milk bag or cheesecloth) and a blender. Without stabilizers and preservatives such as gums, homemade seed milk is creamier and retains more of the seeds’ nutritional goodness than watery commercially produced milk alternatives. Soaking the seeds before blending not only makes a creamier milk, it helps to make the nutrients in the seeds more available to our bodies when we consume them*.
While seed milk has a similar culinary use as dairy milk, there are some key nutritional differences. Seed milk is higher in fat than reduced-fat dairy milk, but it is loaded with the heart-healthy unsaturated kind that works with our bodies to protect our blood vessels and feed our brain cells. Seed milk also retains many of the phytochemical (plant compound) benefits of the seeds used to make it.
Nutrients in Seed Milk You Won’t Find Elsewhere**
Antioxidant Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds are one of the richest sources of this fat-soluble vitamin, which helps keep cell membranes strong and healthy.
Iron: Pumpkin seeds are a good source of plant-based iron, with at least 3 times more iron per ounce than almonds or cashews, helping to ensure our body systems get the oxygen they need to function at top capacity.
Zinc: Pumpkin seeds have twice the amount of this immune-boosting mineral compared to almonds, and sunflower seeds come in not far behind with about 1.5 times the amount in almonds.
Magnesium: Sunflower seeds contain more magnesium than almonds or cashews, and both sunflower and pumpkin seeds contain far more than dairy milk provides.
Seed milk, however, is not a good source of calcium or vitamin D, two key nutrients in dairy milk. These nutrients can instead be found in dark green vegetables, fortified cereals and juices, or canned fish with bones. Seed milk is also lower in protein than dairy milk. Enjoy seed milk with a variety of higher-protein foods to ensure that your body gets the mix of essential amino acids that it needs. Try stirring in chia seeds to the milk for a thicker beverage with additional protein and omega-3 fatty acids
How About Flavor?
Our own tasters describe the flavor of sunflower seed milk as a neutral, roasted one not unlike an almond milk. Shelled raw pumpkin seeds blend into a subtly sweet, balanced creamy beverage.
The basic recipe for seed milk makes a versatile liquid to use in recipes, and a great canvas for adding whatever flavors you desire. Use the base recipe as an unsweetened beverage to enjoy with your favorite snack, as a creamer in coffee and tea, or as an ingredient any place you would use milk.
How to Make Seed Milk
Soak one cup of raw seeds in enough water to cover them for 8 hours or overnight. Drain the water and add the soaked seeds to a blender with two cups of water, blend on high for one minute, until well-pulverized. Pour the seed and water mixture into a mesh bag positioned over a bowl, and strain the solids out of the milk with clean hands.
If adding sweeteners and flavors, combine all ingredients together and re-blend for about 30 seconds to fully integrate.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use within one week for the freshest taste. Stir or shake before using, as separation is natural.
Optional Flavor Variations:Chocolate Sunflower Seed: Add 1 tsp cocoa powder and sweetener of choice
Vanilla Cinnamon Sunflower Seed: Add 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp cinnamon with sweetener of choice
Minted Pumpkin Seed: Add 1 tsp peppermint extract and sweetener of choice
Spiced Pumpkin Seed: Add 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice and sweetener of choice
Turmeric Golden Sunflower Seed Milk: Add 1 tsp turmeric and sweetener of choice
Upcycle That Seed PulpDon’t throw out the leftover solids! The pulp that is strained out of the milk is chock full of nutritious fiber, protein, and leftover vitamins and minerals that didn’t make it into the milk. It can function as a nutrient-dense flour in many recipes. Simply spread seed pulp out in a thin layer on a baking sheet to dry, and store in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.
Pumpkin Seed Crust
Spread pumpkin seed pulp into a ¼ inch thick layer of a greased pie or muffin tin.
Add toppings if desired and bake at 375 Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, until pulp firms into a crispy crust. Use as a crust for mini quiches, cheesecake, or savory pizza.
References*Gibson, R., Perlas, L., & Hotz, C. (2006). Improving the bioavailability of nutrients in plant foods at the household level. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 65(2), 160-168. doi:10.1079/PNS2006489
**US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28 (Slightly revised). Version Current: May 2016. Internet: http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl