The most often-asked questions in the health food world may well be related to soyfoods. When faced with a slab of tempeh or a bottle of shoyu, "What is it?" seems the standard response. Soyfoods aren't nearly as mysterious as they look, and they can be downright tasty, too.
A quick soyfood primer
Miso is a fermented paste made of soybeans (and a grain, sometimes) and salt. The product is then aged for one to three years and used to flavor soups, sauces, salad dressings, and marinades (ever had the Japanese staple, miso soup, at a sushi restaurant?).
Soy flour is made of ground raw soybeans and can be used in place of regular flour for baking and breading in gluten-free or wheat-allergic diets.
Soya flour is made of ground, lightly toasted soybeans; it adds soft, springy texture to baked products (and can even be used as an egg substitute—one tablespoon each soya flour and water for one egg). Its toasty flavor also adds depth and character when used as a thickening agent in sauces and gravies.
Soy milk is a rich and creamy liquid that's made from whole soybeans. Most soy milk is fortified with vitamins and minerals, and some also contains plant-based thickening agents like carrageenin or Job's tears. Soy milk is often used to make other soy products, like ice cream, cheeses, and yogurt. For lactose-intolerant and other dairy-free eaters, soy milk is a rich, creamy alternative to cow’s milk.
Soy sauce is a condiment made from brewed soybeans. Natural varieties are naturally brewed, while many commercial varieties use chemical extraction (and add corn syrup). Shoyu is made from soybeans and wheat and has a light flavor. Tamari is naturally brewed shoyu with more soybean content and a stronger flavor. (These are available in wheat-free and organic varieties as well.) You’ve probably used soy sauce to season your Chinese takeout; you can also use it in marinades, salad dressings, soups, and other dishes (in other words, it’s a great fridge staple).
Tempeh is made of cooked soybeans that are hulled, cultured, and compressed into cakes, then fermented for 24 hours. Tempeh is often used as a meat subsitute; try marinating and baking it for a meatless steak, or slice it thinly, pan-fry it, and layer it into a vegetarian BLT (or TLT).
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) is defatted soy flour in granular form. Use it to make vegetarian chilis, “meat” sauces for pasta, or a vegetarian “sausage” pizza topping. For the best flavor, soak it in veggie stock or water with a vegetable bouillon cube (rather than just water) before cooking.
Tofu is made from thickened soy milk, and it comes in two varieties. Silken tofu, or Japanese-style tofu, has a soft, custard-like texture. Regular tofu, or Chinese-style tofu, is made by pressing the thickened soy milk into blocks. It's already firmer than silken tofu but still comes in soft, firm, and extra-firm varieties.
Tofu can be used in myriad dishes and is often a staple for vegetarians and omnivores alike. Added to soups and stews, pan-fried to make fake popcorn “chicken,” or cooked up in an Asian stir-fry, tofu offers a lighter protein alternative for any dish that traditionally contains meat. You can even blend soft tofu into smoothies to get a kick of protein and texture.
What’s your favorite soyfood, and how do you cook with it?