Pantry Primer: Soy

For vegetarians and anyone else looking to eat less meat, the soybean makes life a whole lot easier. It's considered a great source of high-quality protein and contains essential fatty acids such as omega-3s. 

And while studies conflict about a host of other benefits, including soy's potential as a cholesterol-lowering agent, no one denies that when eaten in moderation, organic, non-GMO soy foods like the six featured here are a good addition to any diet.

What: A paste of fermented cooked soybeans and grains, unpasteurized miso contains more beneficial bacteria than the powdered kind; both contain zybiocolin, which helps detoxify the body and eliminate free radicals. 

How: Mix a light variety with sesame oil and ginger for a delicate marinade. Or add a richer rice miso to tahini, basil, and soba noodles. Note: Cooking at high heat can kill the beneficial bacteria of unpasteurized miso.

What: Tofu is the result of adding a coagulant to soy milk to separate the whey from the curds. The texture of tofu varies from soft (like silken) to extra-firm. 

How: Use soft tofu for creamy nondairy salad dressings or dips. Firm tofu makes an excellent choice for stir-fries or soups. Be sure to squeeze out excess water by placing a heavy plate on top of a firm tofu block. (Pressed tofu does a better job of absorbing marinades.)

Black Soybeans
What: Said to be easier to digest than other soy varieties, this black bean tastes good fresh or fermented. The latter, sold in Asian groceries, predates soy sauce as a condiment and flavoring. 

How: Use canned black soybeans in chilis. Lightly chop the fermented kind and toss with garlic and ginger for a sauce.

What: Tempeh is a cake of cooked soybeans bound together and fermented. Basic tempeh consists solely of soy, but some varieties incorporate grains and seeds. Part of tempeh's health factor comes from the fermentation process, which produces compounds thought to help the body resist infection. 

How: Tempeh's dense, chewy texture and a hearty flavor make it a great substitute for meat. Use for protein-rich veggie burgers or crumble it for chili.

What: It's the Japanese word for green soybeans, but here it refers specifically to garden varieties harvested before they fully mature. The baby beans make a nutrient-dense snack, with one cup offering 17 grams of protein (37 percent of the recommended daily allowance) plus plenty of vitamin K and folate. 

How: Boil them in the pod for 10 to 1 5 minutes, then sprinkle with salt. Toss the shelled beans in pastas, salads, or any other dish that might call for fava or lima beans -- or make an edamame hummus by substituting soybeans for chickpeas.

Soy Milk
What: A good option for those who can't tolerate dairy, soy milk offers a similar amount of protein to cow's milk with less cholesterol -- but typically added sugar as well. The quality of soy milk varies from brand to brand, so check the ingredients for unwanted additives like carrageenan -- or buy fresh soy milk.

How: You can substitute soy milk for cow's milk in most recipes, though you'll likely need to adjust for the sweetness.

Did you know?
While soy has been considered the "meat of the earth" in Asia since the 11th century, it wasn't until production was ramped up during World War II that Americans fully recognized the usefulness of the bean.

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