April 13, 2021

Soy: So much more than just a plant-based substitute

Soybeans have found their way into a variety of foods ranging from soymilk, tofu, and soy yogurt to miso paste, soy burgers, soy loaf, and even soy oil. As the demand for soy products continues to grow, more and more ways are found to incorporate soy into food. Want to learn more about the different soy products and their use? Keep reading to explore the vast variety of soy products and learn more about this valuable protein source.

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The specialties of Soy
Whether soy milk, tofu, or miso paste – a variety of products can be made from soybeans that are not only popular with vegan and vegetarians but increasingly popular with all consumers. U.S. soybeans are known for the quality, diversity, and availability of identity preserved soya and specialty grain products. There are many different varieties and as many different ways to prepare soya products. The versatility of soy is surprising and promises a varied and tasty menu.


Soybeans are particularly rich in protein and therefore suitable for hearty stews or soups, which warm up nicely in winter and provide a lot of energy. However, we find them just as delicious in a salad. Soybeans cannot be eaten raw and must be soaked and cooked in water for a while before eating.

Bean sprouts

Soybean sprouts can easily be grown at home and are known as classic toppings in Japanese dishes such as the well-loved Ramen soup.  The sprouts are also becoming increasingly popular as a bread topping. The fresh sprouts should not be left out of spring and summer rolls.


Edamame is a delicious snack that is often served as an appetizer. The word means “beans on a branch” which refers to a popular dish served in Japan. The green, unripened soybeans in the pod are boiled in salted water and opened just right before enjoying them. They are mostly consumed with a pinch of sea salt and are a great and healthy alternative to chips but can be easily incorporated into salads or one-bowl meals as well. 

Soy flour

The flour is derived from ground soybeans and is often mixed with other types of flour. It is great for vegan baking as soy flour can be used to replace eggs in recipes. Soy flour taste varies from a more “beany” flavor to a sweet and mild flavor. It can be used to thicken soups and sauces.

Soy drink

This great vegan alternative to milk can be used in many ways. Whether you use it for your morning cereal, in coffee and tea, or for healthy smoothies – soy milk is a great plant-based option. Soy drink can also be enjoyed in its pure form or in various flavored versions from chocolate to banana.


Tofu has been consumed for centuries by Chinese and Japanese populations. It is known for its neutral taste and is produced by mixing soaked soybeans with water to form a puree, which is then filtered. After adding a sea salt extract to the resulting soy milk the mass is heated. The soy protein thus separates from the soy milk is then pressed into the typical tofu blocks. With tofu it’s all about the marinade and the additional ingredients which determine the taste. We can differentiate between silken tofu, which makes a key component of the miso soup and is creamy and rich in taste, and smoked tofu, that is often used as a topping in salads or other hearty dishes. Another category of tofu is textured soy which often serve as meat substitutes. We will find them as soy steaks or in small pieces, as a substitution for minced meat, which make for a perfect vegan Bolognese.

Soy sauce

Known from Asian cuisine, soy sauce is indispensable to sushi and other well-known dishes. It is produced by mixing soft-boiled soybeans with roasted wheat and enriching them with special microorganisms. A salt solution is added to the dry mass of “koji” produced by this process. The fermentation process that follows takes weeks or months. The longer the soy sauce is matured, the more intense its flavor and the higher its quality. 


Miso originates from Japan and is a fermented paste made from soybeans, variable proportions of rice or barley, and salt. A mold called koji is added to the mixture of soy. Miso paste has a very special taste and is famously known as a soup base for its namesake. Although the most common use of the paste is to prepare Japanese-style soup, it also adds a unique flavor to salad dressings, sauces, marinades, baked tofu, or vegetable dishes.


Known as a traditional side dish in Indonesia, Tempeh is made of the mold Rhizopus which is added to soybeans.  The resulting fermentation and deep-fat frying gives tempeh its typical strong nutty flavor and crunchy texture. Tempeh is becoming widely loved by many restaurants worldwide as a side dish or as tempeh chips. Sautéed tempeh goes well with salads as well as hearty dishes.

Burger patties and sausages 

Sausages, plant-based burgers, and vegan ham are a common alternative for meat products and a standard item in any supermarket or restaurant. There is a huge variety and the options seem endless. Often the base of these products consist of a mixture of tofu and white protein (gluten). 

Sustainability as key ingredient

Consumers are more than ever concerned about how their behaviors impact the environment. This is a key driver in the rise of sustainably produced items.

U.S. soybean farmers ensure sustainable soybean production and are certified by the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP). U.S.-grown soy is grown sustainably with no land conversion or destruction of rainforests and lower greenhouse gas emissions. More than 95 percent of U.S. farms where soybeans are grown are family-owned and the variety of their products make a great alternative to meat. Today, the United States is the world’s largest producer of sustainably grown soybeans that are consumed both domestically and exported globally.

Soy food – a well-positioned response to the post-pandemic shift in consumer health and wellness priorities 

Health and wellbeing concerns are among the largest factors that are changing global consumers’ attitudes towards eating more plant-based foods because they want to do more to stay healthy in the future. Among those who buy meat alternatives, health and nutrition are the main reasons, followed by the wish to add variety to their diets. Soybeans contain nutrients that are vital for healthy living – protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and also phytonutrients that act as important antioxidants. The wide variety of foods derived from soybeans and soy ingredients can provide valuable contributions to our modern diet, suitable for all ages and ideal for any occasion. As more chefs become advocates for protein-containing soy foods, tofu and tempeh are gathering momentum. This trend is likely to continue as the top consumers of plant-based meat alternatives are Millennials.*  Soy products are an excellent alternative for vegetarian diets and dishes such as the Seared Salmon Tataki with Shoyu Jelly & Miso Mayonnaise

For further information, please visit the following websites: U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC): https://ussec.org/, Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance (SSGA): https://soyagrainsalliance.org/

*NPD Group, “Future of Plant-Based Snapshot” study, 2019