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What is Soy Milk?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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Soy milk is a beverage made from soybeans. It was first developed in Asia, along with numerous other soy based foods such as tempeh, tofu, and soy sauce, and has since spread to the rest of the world. Many vegans and vegetarians drink this type of milk in preference to cow's milk, as do people with lactose intolerance. Other people drink it because they believe that it has health benefits or simply like the taste.

To make soy milk, dried soybeans are soaked in water for at least three hours, and often overnight. The mixture is ground to create a slurry, which is boiled for clarity and better flavor. After cooling, the milk is strained and ready to drink. Some commercial producers add stabilizers to their products so that they will last on the shelf, while others sell fresh varieties that need to be refrigerated.

Soy beans themselves have some inherent nutritional properties, including a high concentration of isoflavones, which are believed to be potentially beneficial for human health. Most producers also supplement their products with calcium carbonate and vitamins such as B12 to increase the nutritional value. While soy has a lot of natural calcium, it is bound up in the bean, and cannot readily be digested. Calcium carbonate, on the other hand, is easily absorbed by the stomach.

The flavor of soy milk is slightly beany, and some Western consumers are not fond of it. Special treatment can alter the flavor, and some producers also flavor their milk with chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and other compounds. Both flavored and plain versions are available in many major grocery stores, and they are often on offer at coffeehouses and restaurants in health conscious regions or areas with a large Asian population.

People who drink soy milk for health should read the label carefully. Some producers add artificial products and sweeteners to their products, making them much less beneficial for the drinker. This is especially important for diabetics, who should look specifically for “unsweetened” varieties rather than assuming that no sugars have been added.

Using a soy milk machine, it is very easy to make this milk at home. It can also be made by hand, but requires patient grinding of the bean slurry and some trial and error. A machine can also be used to make milks from nuts and other beans, if cooks want to experiment with other dairy-free options.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Mykol — On Nov 08, 2012

I used to drink soy milk but became concerned when I read something about estrogen and possibly causing breast cancer. Now I am have read reports saying it is OK to drink, so I am confused. I really liked the taste of soy milk, and think there are a lot of soy milk benefits, but am still a little confused about the whole cancer scare.

By honeybees — On Nov 07, 2012

I tried a couple different soy milk brands but found that I don't really care for the taste of it. I have been trying to eliminate a lot of dairy from my diet, so was looking for some milk alternatives.

What I have found that I love is almond milk and coconut milk. The almond milk is thicker than the coconut milk and they taste really good mixed together.

You still see more choices for soy milk at the grocery store than you do for almond milk or coconut milk. It also seems to be a little bit cheaper, but still more expensive than regular milk.

By sunshined — On Nov 06, 2012

I started drinking soy milk when I found out I was lactose intolerant. This was several years ago before they had all the different soy milk products they have to choose from today. I really like the flavored soy milk better than the regular flavor. If I am going to be using this on my cereal, I prefer the vanilla flavored soy milk, but if I am just going to be drinking a glass of it, I will go for the chocolate.

By myharley — On Nov 06, 2012

@megan2107 -- I prefer to buy the soy milk that is already refrigerated at the store and put it in my refrigerator as soon as I get home. I have bought the kind that doesn't need to refrigerated until opened, but don't care for the taste nearly as well. Another thing I do is make sure and shake the carton real well before I use it.

About the only time I use any kind of milk is on my cereal, so this is one thing that attracted me to soy milk in the first place. It doesn't spoil nearly as quickly as regular milk and I like the taste better as well.

By nextcorrea — On Oct 16, 2012

Are there any health benefits to drinking soy milk over regular milk? Are there any drawbacks health wise?

By Belted — On Oct 16, 2012

I always keep soy milk in my fridge because I think it tastes amazing on cereal, so much better than cow's milk.

Especially if you buy the vanilla kind. If you eat that with a simple cereal like corn flakes or cheerios it really kicks up the flavor and makes breakfast something delicious.

By anon12195 — On May 01, 2008

bought bean curd in a sealed plastic bag but didn't refrigerate for 8 hours. Is it still good or would I be poisoned if I eat it?

By anon5441 — On Nov 25, 2007

you really have to refrigerate once you've opened the container...

and ideally, you finish one container within 4 or 5 days.

By megan2107 — On Aug 16, 2007

does soy milk go bad easily? I recently decided to try soy milk for the health benefits. at first it tasted great, but just a couple days later looked pulp-like and had an after taste. i tried So Nice soymilk instead and loved it. But I just bought more of it today and it was repulsive. the date on it is Feb. 08. this kind was not refrigerated. i don't know if that had something to do with it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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