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Oat or almond drink: which is more sustainable

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Attention! In this article we will deal with plant-based milk substitute drinks, calling them improperly with the following terms: “vegetable milk”, “oat milk”, “almond milk”.

This is a mere simplification, and does not conceal the intention of wanting to assimilate the products in question to cow's milk.

Introduction

Vegetable drinks represent a valid alternative to cow's milk in case there is an intolerance, an allergy, or a need dictated by the diet followed, such as a vegan one. Among the most consumed varieties there are undoubtedly almond milk, or rather the almond-based vegetable drink, and oat milk. In this regard, it is useful to understand how much the production of these vegetable drinks has an impact on the environment. And, having to make a sustainable choice, which of the two is greener.

To decipher the environmental impact of a vegetable drink, a multitude of factors must be considered: where the crop is grown, i.e. the raw material used (in this case the oat and almond fields), how much land consumption it requires, how much water is used in cultivation, the use of chemicals, greenhouse gas emissions, production, transport, etc. Therefore, by cross-referencing various scientific data, it is possible to understand how much these drinks ultimately have an impact on the environment. The result is that oat drink is more sustainable than “milk” or almond drink.

Oat drink and environmental impact

The oat-based vegetable drink has become increasingly popular in recent years, even surpassing the soy drink, among the most drunk as an alternative to milk. First is almond milk.

These are the benefits of oat flour.

His production presents some advantages:

  • oats, i.e. the cereal from which it is obtained grows all over the world and is therefore available throughout the planet without any particular need to transport it around the world to process it
  • And inexpensive,
  • requires few water resources when compared to the cultivation of other cereals,
  • oats can grow in different environments and types of terrain,
  • low greenhouse gas emissions due to transportation.

Oat drink production: water consumption

L’ use of water in the production of a vegetable drink based on oats is not excessive, if compared to other cereals: to produce 4.5 liters of oat drink requires approximately 49 liters of water, excluding the water used to then transform the oats in milk, but only for cultivation. To produce any alternative to milk, water is in fact added to a main ingredient (be it a cereal, a legume or a fruit). For both the oat and almond drink, the ratio is about one cup of oats or almonds to four cups of water.

Oat drink production: land consumption

Oats are a cereal that grows in open fields that can be used for other crops when oats are not in season, thanks to crop rotation that allows the land to be used all year round, thus improving the quality of the ground. There crop rotation in fact it increases the nutrients, and the alternation between deep and superficial roots helps stabilize the soil and keeps parasites and diseases away. In this sense, in the 13 main oat producing states, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides are still used.

Almond drink: environmental impact

The almond-based drink is highly appreciated by consumers, not only for its taste but also for its nutritional characteristics. However, from the point of view of environmental impact it is criticized for the large waste of water it requires and for the fact that almonds grow only in some areas: in California, and in Italy mainly in Sicily and Puglia (39%), although there are some crops in northern Italy.

Almond drink: water consumption

To obtain an almond-based vegetable drink, a significant quantity of water is required, approximately double the quantity of water needed for the cultivation of oats. Furthermore, since they grow only in hot environments and where the humidity level is very low, much of the water used is “blue”, that is, it comes from the subsoil and from rivers, unlike the “green” water, which comes from rain .

Almond drink: land consumption

As far as land use is concerned, however, almond orchards require less space than oat fields, but it is necessary to consider rotation, which in this case does not occur. Almond trees, which require constant maintenance, have a lifespan of about 25 years; it is therefore a monoculture that has nothing to add to the biodiversity of the environment in which it grows. Not only that, almonds require excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers as it requires continuous nitrogen replenishment, which happens through the use of fertilizers that filter into the soil and pollute the groundwater.

Almond drink: greenhouse gas emissions

Last but not least, we evaluate greenhouse gas emissions: almond crops generate slightly less than oat crops, as the co-products of the almond industry (peels, shells, etc.) are also sources of renewable energy, and be processed as livestock feed. However, it should be underlined that post-production emissions, such as the transport of almonds around the world, as cultivation is limited to only a few areas, are not included in the carbon emissions data.

To recover food without wasting it, Spain is passing an ad hoc law.

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