Organic dairy substitutes – soy milk
Soybeans contain higher amounts of protein and fat than similar plant based foods. They contain many of the essential amino acids along with B group vitamins and minerals. Soybeans are also a rich source of isoflavones and phyto oestrogens, the natural plant hormones which are now believed to protect the body against certain forms of cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Soybeans have been cultivated as an important food source in China, Japan, and Korea for thousands of years. In Japan today, soybean products are still used in preference to most animal sourced dairy items. As part of their traditional approach to food, the Japanese have developed very precise and accurate techniques for evaluating the quality of soybeans.
Until recently, the western application of soybeans was limited to lower grade varieties which were mainly harvested for applications in the processed food industry or as a protein rich feed for farm animals. There had also been interest in promoting higher quality soybeans as a staple food for regions with marginal and emerging economies.
Developments in biotechnology have led to modification of soybean strains which enable them to resist widespread and repeated applications of herbicide used to control weeds after sowing. This has increased the operational scale and efficiency of large output producers but has also concentrated unprecedented economic influence with organisations in control of the new technologies.
With a lack of research-based evidence, many of the earlier debates and controversies regarding genetically modified foods appear to have subsided. An obvious exception is perhaps, the resistance among parents and child health workers who refuse to accept assurances that modified soy ingredients are appropriate for use in infant formula. Soy protein isolates are currently used in several of the products which are commonly prescribed for lactose intolerant infants and those with specific allergies to dairy foods.
Conventionally produced soybeans often contain traces of pesticide and other agricultural chemicals. Since most modern pesticides are carefully designed to break down to less harmful compounds over time, dangerous levels of contamination will usually arise from persistent soil residues of banned substances like dieldrin.
Organic soybean crops
To meet organic certification standards, producers undertake comprehensive soil testing to exclude the possibility of pesticide contamination from previous applications. All forms of genetic modification are specifically prohibited under organic certification guidelines. High quality, organically produced soybeans can be sourced from many countries, although these now command significant premiums over the market price for conventional or genetically modified produce. Because they remain susceptible to several species of insect pest, organic producers usually rotate their soybeans with corn, oats, wheat, and other grains. When grown intermittently, every third season for example, the normal development cycle for many of these pests is disrupted.
As a food source
In their basic form, soybeans are difficult to digest. Anyone attempting to prepare them is likely to be confronted with a tough, dry, and bitter tasting bean which doesn’t appear overly promising. An appropriate solution is to soak then grind the beans into a nutritious paste which is then filtered to produce an evenly textured milk which remains slightly bitter but can be consumed directly. In many countries, this pure substance is heated then blended with vegetable oils, corn syrup, and other ingredients to simulate the flavour and texture of cows milk.
Soymilk can be further processed into the soft curd, popularly known as tofu. This versatile substance is used in many Asian dishes where it’s uniform and delicate taste contrasts with the pungent flavours of fresh herbs like garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and spicy peppers. Soybeans are also used to manufacture fermented foods such as tempeh, miso, and tamari. The fermentation provides distinctive flavour and allows soy protein to be more easily digested.
Twenty years ago, soy products were subject to a range of negative associations and stereotypes. Initially described as bland and tasteless, they were not appreciated beyond a subculture of vegetarians, vegans, and alternative health seekers. For older generations, dietary inclusion of soy products was often initiated as a consequence of medical or health related factors. Patients with arteriosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes and other lifestyle related illnesses were frequently advised to replace cows milk with soymilk. Under these conditions, a defensive response was not unusual and many patients seem to have experienced negative reactions to the taste, texture, and smell of soymilk products.
In order to establish their products in a positive light, one prominent manufacturer of soymilk now engages athletes and sporting personalities to promote it as a wholesome food with significant health benefits. Popular acceptance of soymilk has paved the way for related products like tofu, miso, and tempeh. Today, it is easy enough to find terrific recipes for these in popular food magazines and their internet sites.