Soy foods are more than meat extenders

July 28, 1999|By Lynn F. Little

Soy has come a long way since its days as an inexpensive meat extender. From soy milk and ice cream bars to tofu and tempeh, the variety of interesting and tasty soy products is almost endless.

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Tofu is one of the more adaptable soy products. It is made by filtering cooked, pureed soybeans. The resulting "milk" is curdled, much like cheese, using coagulating agents. Some varieties offer added calcium if they are made with a calcium-based coagulant. Read the label for calcium content.

Tofu comes in several styles: reduced-fat, firm, soft and silken. The firmer varieties have had more of the water removed, are more nutrient-dense and work well as substitutes for meat in stir-frys and other combination dishes. Soft and silken tofus are good in creamy sauces and as substitutes for sour cream or mayonnaise in dips and spreads. They also work well in place of milk or cream in baked goods and desserts.


If you are experimenting with soy foods, include them in your meals gradually. For example, try crumbled tofu in place of beef or pork in your favorite meat sauce recipe. Or use chunks of firm tofu for part of the chicken or pork in oriental stir-fry. To give tofu a pleasant chewy texture, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. When thawed, it will be just right for use in stew or chili.

Because tofu is pasteurized at least once in the manufacturing process, sometimes twice, it can be eaten "as is" without further cooking. However, like pasteurized dairy products, tofu can spoil.

Tofu keeps for about a week in the refrigerator, longer in the freezer. Once it is opened, cover it with water and store it in an airtight container. For best results, change the water at least every other day.

Soy milk is the liquid from the cooked mashed soybeans, before the product is curdled for tofu. Available on grocery store shelves, soy milk can be used in place of cow's milk in most recipes. It works well over cereal and is great in smoothies. Keep opened soy milk in the refrigerator for up to a week.

When purchasing soy milk, read the label carefully. Unlike cow's milk, soy milk varies greatly in nutrient composition depending on how it was made. Many brands are sweetened with corn syrup. Brands also vary in calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D content.

Fermented products

Fermented products are another type of soy food. Miso, tempeh (pronounced "tem-pay"), and some brands of soy sauce or "tamari" fall in this category. Tempeh, with its firm, meat-like texture, is gaining appeal. Because both tofu and tempeh are very bland in flavor, they take on the flavor of the seasonings with which they are prepared.

As technology advances, science is discovering that unique compounds found in soy foods may help prevent or even treat some of society's most serious diseases. Evidence is growing that soy foods may help prevent and fight cancer. They may help reduce the risk of heart disease and aid in the control of diabetes. Soy foods also may help fight osteoporosis and reduce menopausal symptoms.

To learn more about soy products and how to incorporate them into your diet, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County, 1260 Maryland Ave., Hagerstown, Md. 21740. Mark the envelope, "Soy."

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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