Soya milk is not a dairy product, but is actually a milk-like drink made from the soaking of dry soybeans in water. Containing about the same amount of protein as cow’s milk plus added vitamins, soya milk has become a popular choice as a milk substitute for vegetarians and those with cow’s milk allergy and lactose intolerance. Though soya milk may be slightly more expensive, it is increasing in popularity; today, soya milk can be found in nearly every supermarket and in most coffee shops nationwide.
The soybean is native to China, where soya milk originated in approximately 164 B.C. Liu An of the Han dynasty is given credit for discovery; he developed Doufu (tofu) as well. Soybeans were later transplanted to Japan and used there as a main food staple. Both China and Japan each came up with ways to make soy milk, and continue those different methods for processing even today.
Soya milk processing is begun by first soaking either whole dry soybeans or soy flour in water. The beans are soaked for a minimum of three hours (sometimes they are soaked overnight), and then go through wet grinding process where the ratio of beans to water is carefully measured and corrected (desired ratio of water to beans is 10:1). The mixture is then heated to boiling for sterilization, improved flavor, and increased nutritional value. The soybean water mixture is boiled for 20 minutes, and then filtered to remove any insoluble matter. The boiling and filtration part of processing is where the Chinese and Japanese methods differ. The Japanese boil the mixture first, and then do a hot filtration before the mixture cools, while the Chinese do a cold filtration first, and then boil the mixture. The Japanese method yields a greater amount of soya milk, but a defoamer must be added during boiling for safety; the Chinese method requires no defoamer because the filtered mixture will not foam when boiled. When soya milk processing is finished, the result is a white to off-white liquid which closely resembles cow’s milk. Original unflavored soy milk is sold, but often sweetener is added to improve flavor of plain soy milk, and chocolate and vanilla soy milk are quite popular as well.
Though soy milk comes from a vegetable and not an animal, it is quite nutritionally similar to cow’s milk (some naturally occurring vitamins in cow’s milk are added to soya.) Both drinks have similar amounts of protein (about 3.5% daily recommended intake), have vitamins E and B12, and although soya contains little calcium, some manufacturers enrich their soya milks with calcium carbonate that can be absorbed by the gut. Soya milk does not contain hormones (like rBGH), antibiotics, or cholesterol, and is safe for people with lactose intolerance to consume. Soya milk also contains isoflavones which are powerful antioxidants, and other beneficial organic compounds.
Many consumers buy soya milk for its advertised benefits, but the soy industry, just like the dairy industry, does receive criticism for potentially harmful soy milk components. Phytic acid, found in many plant tissues and used for storing phosphorous, occurs in high levels in soya milk, and binds with minerals like zinc and iron, possibly contributing to mineral deficiency in children or adults who have a low intake of these minerals (worrisome for poor and developing countries). Also, some of the soybeans used to make soya milk are genetically modified, may contain phytoestrogens that affect thyroid function and metabolism, and may possibly contain aluminum in rare cases. Apparently neither cow’s milk nor soya milk has 100% approval from all interested parties.
One of the most appealing traits of soya milk is its many uses. The lactose intolerant can use soya milk as a substitute for cow’s milk in many recipes, and soya milk is used (like milk) in a variety of vegetarian products. In fact, tofu is made by letting soya milk curdle then draining it. Soya milk can even be made at home with a blender and various other kitchen utensils.
Though soya milk in your latte may cost you an extra 25 cents, many consumers are opting to sample this alternative form of milk maybe for health reasons, or maybe just to try something new. Either way, soya milk is consumed in many countries, and soybeans are being grown in more areas to keep up with world demand for soy products. So far, research has shown that any negative health effects of soya milk are outweighed by the good – healthful antioxidants and improved cardiovascular health. So go ahead, enjoy your soya!