Soy and tofu were some of the first ingredients used in product alternatives such as dairy-free milk and cheese, as well as a meat replacement.
Soy and soy by-products are derived from soybeans, which provide a high value of plant protein – up to 40 percent protein. Edamame beans, popularly served at Asian restaurants with rock salt, are an example of a type of soybean. Yellow soybeans are used to produce soy milk, tofu, and tempeh, which is a meat substitute made from fermenting soybeans.
Soy milk was one of the first non-dairy milk substitutes, made by soaking and grinding soybeans. Soy milk is easy to make at home by simply soaking soybeans in water overnight, removing the skins, and then blending with water and then straining. Homemade soymilk can also be used to make dairy-free homemade soy yogurt.
Tofu is also known as bean curd. It is made from condensed soy milk and is usually pressed into blocks. Tofu absorbs flavors, and for that reason is popular for cooking with dishes such as a stir fry. Tofu is easily cooked – first remember to drain the liquid from the tofu as it usually comes packaged in liquid (much like feta), and failing to drain the tofu may result in flavors not being absorbed into the tofu. Slice into desired sizes, and place on a kitchen towel with a heavier object, such as a roasting pan, in order to press the tofu down and encourage draining for at least an hour. Toss the tofu in cornstarch to help make it crispy, and then fry in hot oil and add any desired seasoning.
The fermentation process involves the use of a special fungus to culture the entire soybean as it is wrapped in banana leaves into a cake form with a savory and nutty taste. Tempeh has a different taste and texture to tofu. Tempeh can be marinated to help give the product depth of flavor, specifically when being used as a meat substitute.