What is soy?
Soybeans – actually, beans in general – are not much of a dietary staple in the western world. But traditional soy foods – like tofu, miso and tempeh – have formed the basis of the diet in East Asia for centuries, where they’re valued not only for their versatility, but also for the healthy nutrition they offer.
Soy is nutrient-packed
While all beans provide protein, soybeans top the list when it comes to protein quality. Proteins are made up of small building blocks called amino acids. And some amino acids are termed essential – which means that we have to get them from foods, because our bodies can’t make them. A protein that contains all the essential amino acids is termed ‘complete’ – and soy is one of the few complete proteins in the plant world.
Soybeans are also low in saturated fat and, like all plant foods, are naturally cholesterol-free. Soybeans also offer up calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and B-vitamins, along with omega-3 fats.
If you’re trying to work more plant protein into your diet, you might want to give soy a try. With so many soy products to choose from, it’s easier than ever. Here are some of the most popular forms of soy.
- Edamame are fresh green soybeans. You can often find these in your shop’s freezer either in the pod, or already shelled. After briefly cooking in salted water, they can be eaten as a snack, or added to soups and salads.
- Tempeh is made from soybeans that are partially cooked, allowed to ferment and then formed into a firm block. Since tempeh is fermented, it’s a source of “good bacteria”, or probiotics. Tempeh has a meaty flavour and firm texture which holds its shape, so it’s great for salads and stir-fry dishes.
- Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans (which means it also contains probiotics) and it’s used as base for soup, as well as an ingredient in sauces, salad dressings and marinades. There are different varieties, and the colour can range from light yellow to very deep brown. In general, light miso is less salty and milder in flavor than dark miso.
- Soy milk is made from dried soybeans which are soaked in water until they’re rehydrated, then ground with water. The resulting milk is sold as a beverage or made into yogurt. Soy milk and soy yogurt each have about 7 grams of protein per 8 250ml serving. You can use soy milk as a beverage on its own, or you can substitute it for regular milk in most recipes or in protein shakes.
- Soy nuts are roasted whole soybeans. They make a nice snack on their own, and they’re also good in salads, and on cereals. Soy nuts (and soy nut butter, which is made from ground soy nuts) have a bit more protein and a bit less fat than peanuts (or peanut butter).
- Soy protein powders and meat substitutes are made from soybean flour that’s had most of the fat removed. The powders can be added to smoothies or stirred into oatmeal and the soy meat substitutes can be used in all sorts of recipes in place of meat or poultry.
- Tofu is essentially a cheese that’s made from soy milk. It ranges in texture from extra firm to extra soft and has a very mild flavour – which means it mixes well with anything from spicy sauces to naturally sweet fruits. The firmer type of tofu is good for grilling or stir-frying, while the softer, creamier style is good in smoothies or sweetened and topped with fruit as a dessert.