How plant-based milk is produced
Ever wondered how your favourite plant-based milk is produced? There’s quite a lot that goes into it, but you might be surprised to learn how sustainable the process can be. Eativity speaks with Natalie Butler, General Manager for Consumer Business at Australian Hemp & Oat Mylk producer Mt. Elephant, about why hemp milk is one of the most sustainable and healthiest plant-based milks currently available on the market.
Why hemp and oats?
“Our choice of hemp and oats is the foundation of our sustainability,” Butler says. “Both hemp and oats are regenerative crops. This means they nourish the soil they grow in rather than consuming nutrients in the soil for their growth. They’ve also been shown to reduce soil erosion. Many farmers use them in between other crops to nourish their soil.”
Mt. Elephant’s hemp is grown in the north of Tasmania, which has the ideal climate for growing hemp. It’s naturally high winter rainfall, rich soil and a mild summer. Hemp’s growth cycle only takes 14-16 weeks, so it’s the perfect rotational crop for the region’s farmers.
“Because it grows so fast and regenerates soil, hemp is loved by farmers,” Butler says. “It gives them an additional revenue stream while improving their other crops. Hemp also helps purify the air, removing four times more CO2 than trees. In terms of water consumption, hemp and oats also require less water than many other crops grown in Australia.”
The oats Mt. Elephant uses are grown in Western Australia. They’re a low-input crop, which means they requires fewer resources to produce than other grains. Oats have a low carbon footprint and require less water than some other milk alternative bases such as almonds.
What else does Mt. Elephant Hemp & Oat Mylk contain?
Mt. Elephant uses whole hemp seeds as the base of its plant-based milk to ensure key nutrients such as protein, magnesium and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids remain in the final product. Some other plant milks are manufactured exclusively from protein extracts rather than a full seed or grain. Vegetable oils are also added to give the milk a smooth and silky consistency. Because hemp seeds contain natural oils, there’s no need for Mt. Elephant to do this. Oats are also added to the milk as they’re a great source of protein and fibre, and also add that creamy texture and rich flavour that oat milk-drinkers love.
“We add a touch of brown rice syrup as a natural sweetener, which is low in fructose,” Butler says. “It’s common for some plant-based milks to contain high amounts of processed sugar. We also add calcium carbonate as a source of calcium, sunflower lecithin to stabilise the hemp oil, and natural gums to prevent the minerals and fibre from settling.”
How is Mt. Elephant plant-based milk produced?
Mt. Elephant manages the growth and processing of hemp across a number of farms in Tassie, mostly around Cressy. Hemp seeds are processed into a slurry before being made into the final product. A mechanical process breaks down the hemp seeds without using solvents. There are no chemical additives used throughout the entire process.
“We are supported by Tetra Pak, using its processing and packaging solutions,” Butler says. “On site, the base slurry is mixed with ingredients per our formulation in a Tetra Pak High Shear Mixer. Once mixed and ready for processing, the product goes through UHT [ultra high temperature] treatment, requiring both a steriliser and an aseptic unit for packaging.
“In UHT treatment, the goal is to maximise the destruction of microorganisms while minimising the chemical changes in the product. UHT involves heating the product to over 135°C. We keep it there for a few seconds, and then quickly cool it down.”
What about packaging?
The milk is packed in an aseptic package that stops any microorganisms from entering. This makes it safe for months without any need for refrigeration. There’s no need to add preservatives to a UHT-treated product, as there are no bugs present in it. Aseptic containers also protect the product from air and light, which protects the product’s quality.
Butler says it was important for Mt. Elephant to use a type of packaging that was in line with the company’s focus on sustainability. Carton has been shown to be the most sustainable packaging option commonly available in Australia. According to a Life Cycle Analysis study in 2019, if all of Australia’s food and beverage products were in cartons, it could reduce the impact of packaging on climate change by up to 12 times.
“We found Tetra Pak’s aseptic packages to be the best fit for us,” Butler says. “They combine sustainability and food safety. This allows us to keep our milks stable on supermarket shelves for an extensive period of time. There’s no need for preservatives.”
What happens with waste?
The main by-product of hemp seed production is the hemp hulls, or shells of the seed. Currently, all Mt. Elephant hemp hulls are used for horse feed supplements because of their high nutrient qualities, including residual omega-3 and omega-6s and fibre. The oat pulp left over from the milk-making process – known as okara – is also used as animal feed.
“We are also currently working on some new products that utilise some of the waste filtered from the hemp milk production,” Butler says. “So watch this space!
You can find Mt. Elephant Hemp & Oat Mylk at Woolworths or Coles in the long-life milk aisle. For more on Mt. Elephant and its product range, head to mtelephant.com.au