Lessons with Lucy: Leche de Alpiste (Canary Seed Milk)March 27th, 2013 | Posted by in Food | Mexico
Our hosts, Lucy and Sergio, are incredibly sweet and sincere. Sergio’s family has lived on the property for more than 100 years, and Lucy, originally from Mexico City, is who makes their house a home. They have made every effort to ensure that we have everything that we could possibly need, greeting us with warmth and kind conversation when we see them, but fully respecting our time and privacy otherwise. Throughout the month, I have had the privilege of spending a few evenings with Lucy, learning small lessons from her amidst laughter and conversation in our cozy yellow kitchen.
Lucy and I had plenty of time to chat while we waited for our corn cake to bake during our first lesson. We covered a wide variety of topics not the least of which was the deliciousness of Oaxacan quesillo, a cheese produced here in the state and sold in decent sized blocks for just 10 pesos ($.80 USD) in the store across the street. This, however, led to the unfortunate conversation regarding my inability to consume dairy products without an oppressive response from my digestive and respiratory systems, and in turn, a review of available alternatives. Avocados, for example, in their creamy and decadent glory, are my preferred replacement for the fatty richness of cheese, and we eat them with nearly every meal. Soy milk though, the only milk substitute we’ve seen thus far in Mexico, has proven to be quite expensive at 30-40 pesos ($2.40-3.20 USD) per quart which comes out to $10-12 USD per gallon. In response to this, Lucy recommended leche de alpiste. Of course, I had no idea what she was talking about, but she fetched a bag of seeds and commenced to educate me.
Alpiste is identified throughout most of the English-speaking world as canary seed and is used almost solely as bird food. In Mexico and other parts the Spanish-speaking world though, the seeds, which are very similar to flaxseeds, are well-known as a natural ingredient which can be made into milk. Lucy recommended the concoction to me as simply a replacement for dairy milk if I wanted one, but with a quick Google search on nutritional value, I found that many proponents of alpiste also attribute a number of health benefits to the seed, such as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, controlling diabetes, and acting as a diuretic. Perhaps most important to us personally is the markedly high protein content that many sources claim it contains, as that is the primary reason we drink soy milk in the first place. Keeping in mind that non-scientific, web-based articles are our only current source of information, the general consensus is that 5 tablespoons of alpiste (enough to make a couple of glasses of milk) contain 9 grams of protein. Contraindications include a warning that silica fibers on the outside of the seeds can be linked to esophageal cancer; however, as one forum participant pointed out, most such claims appear to be sourced from one or two decades-old studies and the wide circulation of their results by a company that sells conveniently silica-less canary seeds. As the corporate culture of food and pharmacueticals in the United States has taught us, the source of data and information requires consideration, and that goes for both the benefits and negatives of a product.
Lucy left me with a bag of alpiste and a set of instructions on how to make my milk. The final product was a bit watery, which is probably a more difficult transition for those currently drinking dairy milk than those who already consume alternatives like rice or soy milk, but some recommendations suggest mixing it with soy milk anyway which likely thickens it up a bit. I added only honey and cinnamon to mine and found the flavor to be quite decent and the beverage easy to drink. No sugar should be added to the milk, and it should be consumed within a day or 2 of making it. Ready to give it a go?
Oaxaca Lucy’s Leche de Alpiste
- 5 tablespoons of alpiste
- 1 liter plus 1 cup water
1. Rinse alpiste.
2. Put alpiste in a cup or bowl with 1 cup of water. Let soak overnight.
3. Drain alpiste.
4. Put alpiste in blender with 1 cup of water. Blend.
5. Add remaining water. Blend more. Let settle.
6. Strain milk into a pitcher once or twice. Most solids will remain in the blender. An extra round of straining with a cloth strainer would be best, but I don’t have one of those, so I just drink mine with some swimmers.