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.