Soy beans, the magical fruit

Soy is everywhere. But how does it get there? And how did we figure out so many things to do with it?

Take some dried soybeans. Crush them in water, and then heat until nearly boiling. Pour off the liquid, leaving a starchy, spongy mass behind, and you have soy milk, delicious in your morning cereal. Add magnesium or calcium salts to soy milk, and coagulation begins. Similar to the cheese making process, curds are formed, and then drained of liquid and pressed into a solid mass, resulting in the highly nutritious, easily digestible, add-me-to-anything wonder food known as tofu.

But wait, there’s more! Remember that spongy mass we left behind? That’s called okara, and can be eaten like cottage cheese. Or used even more awesomely in the production of soy sauce, where it is mixed with wheat and formed into cakes. These cakes are then be inoculated with Aspergillus (a common genus of mold, quite handy for many interesting food making processes) to start fermenting those starches into sugars. The whole thing is then added to a salt brine with Saccharomyces  cerevisiae (of beer and bread fame) and  Lactobacillus (everyone’s favorite dairy probiotic of the moment) to finish off the fermentation. Traditionally, it takes 1-3 years to properly age the soy sauce, before it reaches the right flavor and color. Old, moldy, soybean juice – delicious!

Okara and wheat cakes, inoculated with Aspergillus sojae. Yummy…?

Other foodstuff from the magical soybean include various milk replacement items (like soy cheese), textured vegetable protein (included in meat replacement items, such as my favorite, Soyrizo), sprouts (very high in vitamin C), blanched beans (edamame), and several more fermentation products, such as tempeh (fermented tofu), and miso (you thought the soy sauce story was convoluted!). Honestly, how many ways can you ferment something, and still come up with palatable results? Apparently, a lot.

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