Reviewed and edited by Stephanie Wells, MS, RD, LD, ACSM-CPT
With so many plant-based milks on grocery store shelves, choosing between them can be confusing and frustrating. Many people looking for a vegan, soy-free option find themselves deciding between walnut and almond milk, two milk alternatives made from tree nuts.
I’ll compare the nutrition profile, sustainability, taste, and texture of each to help you make the best choice for yourself and your loved ones.
What is walnut milk?
Walnut milk is a non-dairy milk alternative made from walnuts. Walnut milk is relatively uncommon and typically gets overshadowed by other plant-based milks, such as almond, cashew, oat, and soy. Nonetheless, it is a great option for those who are lactose intolerant or choose to follow a vegan diet.
Walnut milk is naturally rich in a variety of important nutrients and offers many of the same health benefits that walnuts provide. To make walnut milk, walnuts are soaked in water until soft, pulverized, and then strained to remove the undesired pulp. The resulting liquid has a smooth and creamy texture that offers a subtle nutty flavor.
Additional ingredients like stabilizers, sweeteners, or added vitamins and minerals may be included in some commercially available walnut milks, although fortification isn’t common.
What is almond milk?
Almond milk is another cow’s milk alternative that is made from almonds. Similar to walnut milk, it is made by blending almonds and water together and then straining to remove the pulp. In commercial processing, the milk is homogenized, or pumped through a filter under very high pressure, to achieve a smooth consistency. The milk is then pasteurized to increase the shelf life.
There are a variety of almond milks on the market today, including sweetened, unsweetened, or flavored. As almond milk continues to increase in popularity, more brands are coming out with their own versions. The majority of store-bought varieties are fortified with vitamins and minerals to improve the nutrition profile of the milk.
Nutrition profile & ingredients
Since it is often easier to understand nutritional benefits by way of comparison, let’s take a look at two versions from the same brand: Elmhurst Unsweetened Walnut Milk and Elmhurst Unsweetened Almond Milk.
Walnut and almond milk are very comparable in terms of nutrition content. Both milks have the same amount of total fat per serving.
Walnut milk, however, has a significantly greater amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids, with 1400 mg per serving. Omega-3 fatty acids1 offer a wealth of benefits including reducing inflammation, lowering bad cholesterol levels, and supporting healthy brain function.
They have very similar caloric densities and are low in protein, carbohydrates, and sodium. This brand of almond milk has slightly more protein than walnut milk, but neither is considered a significant source of protein. In fact, one serving of almond milk only provides about 10% of the recommended daily intake for 1 to 3-year-olds. That would mean it’s an insignificant protein source for both children and adults.
This brand of almond milk is actually fairly high in protein compared to most other almond milk brands, which usually contain a measly 1 gram of protein.
RELATED: High-Protein Plant-Based Milks
Elmhurst does not fortify its products. Therefore, the calcium content is fairly low in both milks. It’s pretty common to see other brands fortify their plant-based milks with additional calcium and vitamin D, while some will also add nutrients like vitamin A and B12. This is because plant-based milks are naturally low in key nutrients that are found in dairy products.
Although not listed on the nutrition label, almonds are known to be a good source of vitamin E. Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, a compound that protects your cells against damage by free radicals. Elmhurst Unsweetened Almond Milk has 5.9 mg of vitamin E per serving, which is almost 40% of the recommended daily value2 for adults (15 mg).
The ingredients in Elmhurst Unsweetened Walnut Milk are simple: filtered water and walnuts. Similarly, the only two ingredients in Elmhurst Unsweetened Almond Milk are filtered water and almonds.
The Elmhurst brand prides itself on including only simple and clean ingredients in its products. Neither milk has any added gums, oils, or emulsifiers. Other brands may add ingredients such as sunflower lecithin, gellan gum, locust bean gum, or guar gum. Although not essential, these are safe food additives that serve as thickeners or stabilizers to prevent separation.
Walnut and almond milk are both versatile and can be used in a variety of ways, such as:
- Cereal or oatmeal
- Tea or coffee
- Baked goods (pancakes, waffles, French toast, cake)
- Smoothies and milkshakes
- “Nice” cream made from frozen bananas
Walnut milk has a nuttier and earthier flavor, which can serve as a great base for a savory sauce or dish. Walnut milk also tends to be a bit sweeter.
Almond milk has a thinner consistency and milder taste than walnut milk. If you prefer a creamier or thicker texture, you may want to give walnut milk a try.
However, taste is subjective, and it all comes down to personal preference. Either milk is a great dairy milk substitute and can bring unique hints of flavor to any beverage or dish.
In comparison to dairy milk, plant-based milks have a significantly lower impact on the environment. The production of cow’s milk3 requires more land and water and causes greater greenhouse gas emissions.
Almonds have been known to require a vast amount of water to grow and produce, meaning almond milk is often criticized for its high water usage during production. Although this is true, the amount of water required to produce almond milk is still vastly below what is required for dairy milk.
Walnut trees are more tolerant to droughts and require less water to grow than almonds. The environmental impact of walnuts is not as well known, but they do seem to have an advantage over almonds in terms of water usage.
All in all, any plant-based alternative is going to be more sustainable than dairy milk.
How to choose between walnut milk and almond milk
- Look for vitamin & mineral fortification. Choosing fortified non-dairy milk is one of the easiest ways for vegans to get enough calcium and vitamin D to support bone health. Almond milk is fortified with these helpful nutrients more often than walnut milk is.
- Taste and texture. Walnut milk is creamier and has a nuttier flavor than almond milk. Almond milk is thinner in consistency and has a more neutral flavor. Think about how you intend to use these non-dairy milks and what flavor/consistency combo would work best.
- Allergies and food intolerances. Almonds and walnuts are both tree nuts, so avoid these plant-based milks if you have a tree nut allergy. Almond and walnut milk should both be safe for gluten-free and dairy-free diets.
- Age of the consumer. If purchasing for toddlers and young children, remember that neither almond nor walnut milk is considered an appropriate milk alternative due to their low protein content. Fortified soy, pea, and non-dairy milk with added pea protein are recommended instead.
- Added sugars. If you already consume a lot of sugar throughout the day, want to keep your added sugar intake low, or struggle to manage your blood sugar due to type 2 diabetes, unsweetened walnut milk or unsweetened almond milk may be the best choice. Small amounts of added sugars in the context of a nutrient-dense diet aren’t a big deal for most people, but they can add up quickly if you aren’t paying attention.
When comparing unfortified walnut milk and almond milk made simply from water and blended nuts, they’re both good sources of heart-healthy fats and are low in added sugars. The main difference is that walnut milk is a much better source of omega-3 fatty acids while almond milk is a better source of antioxidant vitamin E.
Neither is a good source of calcium or vitamin D unless you choose a brand that has been fortified with these bone-supporting nutrients. Unlike soy, pea, or oat milk, walnut and almond milk aren’t usually fortified with vitamin B12. The Elmhurst brand of almond milk is a decent source of protein with 5 grams, but most almond milks only contain about 1 gram.
Dietitians typically recommend that vegans choose soy or pea milk fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 as their primary non-dairy milk, but walnut and almond milk can certainly be included in a plant-based diet. Walnut milk may be helpful for vegans who struggle to get enough omega-3 fats.
Unless fortified with calcium and vitamin D, neither milk will do much to help vegans meet their nutrient needs apart from the omega-3s in walnut milk. That being said, they can definitely come in useful in smoothies, baking, and other culinary applications.
Curious about what to look for when choosing a non-dairy milk? Check out A Vegan Dietitian’s Guide to Non-Dairy Milk for tips from a plant-based nutrition expert!
Walnut milk vs almond milk – FAQs
Which is better: almond milk or walnut milk?
This depends on what you need from your non-dairy milk. Walnut milk is a better source of omega-3 fatty acids, but almond milk is higher in antioxidant vitamin E and is more commonly fortified with helpful nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.
What are the pros and cons of walnut milk?
Walnut milk is a good source of plant-based omega-3 fats, but is low in protein. It’s usually not fortified with calcium or vitamin D, unlike most other non-dairy milks. Nutritionally, this makes it less valuable for vegans.
Is walnut milk good for your gut?
Yes! Research4 has shown that the omega-3 fats in walnuts help regulate the gut microbiome. In addition, walnut polyphenol extracts have been shown to help support a healthy immune system (most of which resides in the gut) and improve the health of gut bacteria.
The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.
- National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH website. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 11/21/23.
- National Institutes of Health. Vitamin E Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH website. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 11/21/23.
- Ritchie, Hannah. Dairy vs. plant-based milk: what are the environmental impacts? Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impact-milks. Accessed June 9, 2023.
- Ni ZJ, Zhang YG, Chen SX, et al. Exploration of walnut components and their association with health effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2022;62(19):5113-5129. doi:10.1080/10408398.2021.1881439