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Homemade Soy Milk

June 11, 2011

Last weekend I tried and failed to make tofu using the simple recipe in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. My three mistakes were, I believe, 1) store-bought soy milk, 2) a lemon juice coagulant, and 3) overly low soy milk temperature. I’m not giving up yet, and my first step toward another tofu attempt was to make my own soy milk. Commercial soy milk includes not just soy milk but also carrageenan, sea salt, and unspecified “natural flavors.” I could imagine any of these interfering with the curdling process.

Homemade soy milk, it turns out, is much easier to make. There are only two ingredients – 500g dried organic soy beans and water – and all you really have to do is soak, grind, cook, and strain.I got my recipe from a Japanese ex-pat’s food blog, Just Hungry. The recipe is here, but I’ve modified it below to match what I did and also simplify the instructions a bit.

  • Soak. Put soy beans in bowl and fill with water to cover. Leave soaking for 8-24 hours — or three days, as I did.
  • Grind. Pour off the water and put half the beans in a food processor. Fill with fresh water to cover (I used between 1 and 2 cups). Puree for 2-3 minutes, until the beans have become white and foamy, resembling nothing so much as marshmallow fluff. Repeat with the second half of the soy beans.
  • Cook. Fill two of the biggest stock pots you can find with 8 cups of water each. Add pureed beans until you have filled half of the pot, and go no higher. This concoction will boil over like nobody’s business, so don’t dare to fill any higher. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the pots from boiling over, until at least 2-3 minutes after the milk has grainy material in it and the foam has all gone away.
  • Strain. Strap cheese cloth over a container and pour the soy milk into it. What goes through the cheese cloth is soy milk, and what the cheese cloth keeps out is okara.

So how did it turn out? It looks like commercial western soy milk, but it sure doesn’t taste like it. It is thinner, and it tastes a bit like grass. (Alex says like peas.) If you add a bit of honey and vanilla to it, it’s much “better.” But “better” may just be “what I’m used to.” When I was a kid, I didn’t like the tartness of plain yogurt either. Now I like foods for what they are, not for the sugar that’s been added to them. I am going to see whether this taste grows on me. If it doesn’t, grassy flavor will disappear in a smoothie with a banana and some frozen mixed berries.

In addition to about a gallon of soy milk, the recipe also yielded 2-3 cups of okara. If you don’t know what okara is, don’t worry – we didn’t, either. Okara is to soy milk making as whey is to cheese making, only it’s a solid instead of a liquid. There are many parallels between soy and dairy, in fact; it seems that Asian societies have found nearly as many ways to curdle, age, and otherwise manipute soy as western societies have dairy. In any case, okara is a pulpy substance similar to cornmeal in texture. Like whey, it is apparently quite nutritious. So what do you do with it? Here are the uses we’ve discovered for okara:

  • Alex immediate mixed it with soy sauce and sesame oil, formed it into a patty, and sauteed it – delicious.
  • I added some to a batch of granola, which it blended into beautifully.
  • The rest got toasted in the oven at 350 for 50 minutes, turning every 10 or 15 minutes. I then stored it in an airtight bag for use in baked goods and/or veggie burgers. It could definitely substitute for bread crumbs, too.

We also got a skin of cooked soy milk out of this, since the soy milk kept cooking even after we turned the heat off. One of my favorite books, On Food and Cooking, indicates that this is a delicacy in Japanese society. It is quite tasty, but it looks disgusting.

What about from a price perspective? Is soy milk a make or a buy when it comes to your wallet? The only ingredient that I paid for was 500g of soy beans – almost a pound. I can’t remember what I paid, but I can find 25 pounds of organic soy beans for sale on Amazon for $29. Other prices seem higher, like this Pleasant Hill Grain listing for $49 for 25lbs. I’d say $1.50 per pound is a fair estimate, and my 0.9 pounds of beans yielded more than a gallon of soy milk (plus the okara). Silk brand soy milk, by comparison, is more than $6 per gallon. So if my time and natural gas are free, and if I don’t add any sweeteners or thickeners, the cost of homemade soy milk is about 20% that of commercial soy milk.

Making soy milk was a lot of fun – a really neat science experiment with some interesting-tasting by-products. Would I make it again? Maybe. That all depends on whether it ends up yielding good tofu. Grassy soy milk and okara are interesting, but I don’t think I’ll miss them when they’re gone. And I’m more of a cow milk person anyway.

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