Soy as Part of a Healthy Diet

The array of soy foods now widely available can leave shoppers at a loss for ways to incorporate them into their diets. However, with the American Heart Association endorsement of soy as a heart-healthy food, more Americans are looking for ways to add this Asian staple into the typical Western diet. This handout describes the more common soy foods and provides nutritional information and storage, cooking, and substitution ideas. For more information and great soy recipes, see


Product Description. Soymilk is the rich, creamy milk of whole soybeans. It is lactose- and casein-free. Soymilk is available in regular and low-fat varieties, and some brands are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and/or vitamin B12. Soymilk comes in plain, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors.

Storage. Soymilk is most commonly found in aseptic (non-refrigerated) packages, but also is sold refrigerated in plastic or cardboard containers. Unopened, aseptically packaged soymilk can be stored at room temperature for several months. Once opened, soymilk must be refrigerated. It will stay fresh for about five days. Soymilk also is sold as a powder, which must be mixed with water. Soymilk powder should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

Cooking Basics. Soymilk may be consumed as a beverage or substituted for dairy milk in most recipes. Culinary chefs prefer cooking with whole soymilk to provide firmer consistency in cooked dishes such as puddings and custards.

Soymilk Tips. Soymilk can be used in almost any way that cow’s milk is used:

  • Use soymilk to make cream sauces or soups that are cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat.
  • Create your own delicious shakes with soymilk, soy ice cream or tofu, soy yogurt, and fruit.
  • Try soymilk instead of evaporated milk to produce lower-fat custards and pumpkin pies.

Soy Flour

Product Description. Soy flour is made from roasted soybeans that have been ground into a fine powder. Full-fat soy flour contains the natural oils that are found in the soybean; in defatted soy flour, the oils are removed during processing. Both kinds of soy flour will give a protein boost to recipes; however, defatted soy flour is even more concentrated in protein than full-fat soy flour.

Storage. Full-fat soy flour should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve its freshness. Defatted soy flour may be stored on the shelf.

Cooking Basics. Soy flour tends to pack down in a container, so always stir or sift before measuring. Baked products containing soy flour tend to brown more quickly, so you may want to lower oven temperatures slightly.

Substituting Soy Flour. Because soy flour is free of gluten, which gives structure to yeast-raised breads, it cannot replace all the wheat or rye flour in bread recipes. However, using 15% soy flour in a recipe produces a dense bread with a nutty flavor and a moist quality.

Place 2 T soy flour in your measuring cup for every cup of wheat flour before measuring all-purpose or other flour called for in the recipe.

In baked products, such as quick breads, that are not yeast-raised, up to 1/4 of the total amount of flour in the recipe can be replaced with soy flour. For each cup of flour called for, use 1/4 C soy flour and 3/4 C all-purpose or whole wheat flour.

Soy Flour Tips. In your own kitchen, use soy flour to thicken gravies and cream sauces. Premix a batch of 1 part soy flour and 3 parts wheat flour so that it is ready to use when you bake.

Soy Protein Powder

Product Description. If you want to eat the most soy protein per serving in your meals, then try adding some soy protein isolate powder in your favorite recipes.

Soy protein isolate is a dry powder food ingredient that is made from defatted soy flakes. Containing 90% protein, soy protein isolates possess the greatest amount of protein (see Table 1) and all the essential amino acids of all soy products.

Table 1: Soy food protein and isoflavone content

Soy protein isolate powder is sold in canisters in health food sections of stores. It’s often labeled as "soy protein powder drink mix." Most soy protein powder drinks on the market are made with soy protein isolate. Soy protein powders come in plain, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors. Several brands are fortified with calcium.

Storage. Kept sealed and dry, it is shelf-stable for many months. Look for use-by dates on the container.

Recipe Ideas. Be sure to read the nutrition label of your soy protein powder for the protein level/serving.

  • Add a serving of plain soy protein isolate to your favorite soup. Remove a small amount of hot soup and blend it with isolate powder. Add the mixture to the soup.
  • Mix a serving of flavored soy protein shake powder with cold juice, milk, or soymilk.
  • Mix a serving of soy protein powder into your favorite hot cereal.
  • Try mixing soy protein powder to your favorite salad dressings or sauce for extra protein.

Soy Meat Alternatives

Product Description. Meat alternatives (also called meat analogs) are non-meat foods made from soy protein and other ingredients mixed together to simulate various kinds of meat. Flavors include pork, beef, poultry, and sausage.

Where to Find. Look for meat alternatives in grocery stores in the following locations:

  • Refrigerated case: beef and sausage-style crumbles, deli slices, burgers, wieners, entrées, taco filings.
  • Freezer case: burgers, crumbles, sausage-style links and patties, chicken-like strips.
  • Dry, prepared foods (dry mixes and shelf-stable): taco filings, sloppy joes, chili, meatball and loaf mixes, sausage-style strips, and texturized vegetable protein.

Storage. Frozen or refrigerated meat alternatives should be stored accordingly at home. Others come in dry-mix boxes and may be stored on the shelf.

Cooking Basics. Follow package directions. Substitute a meat alternative for all or part of the meat in your favorite recipe.

Recipe Tips. Meat alternatives usually can be used the same way as the foods they replace, such as tofu hot dogs or soy burgers on the grill (see Table 2).

Table 2: Soy food substitution chart

  • Using meat alternatives in highly seasoned dishes, such as tacos, minimizes the flavor difference between them and meat.
  • One 12 oz package of soy burger-style crumbles is equal to 1 lb of ground beef.
  • Substitute a package of soy burger-style crumbles for ground beef when preparing your favorite spaghetti, sloppy joe, chili, stroganoff, or hamburger casserole recipes.

Whole Soybeans (dry, canned, green)

Product Description. Soybeans can be purchased as dry whole soybeans, canned yellow or black soybeans, and green (fresh or frozen) and shelled or in the pod.

Green vegetable soybeans (also called edamame) are harvested at 80% maturity. Edamame soybeans are a special bean variety that are bigger and sweeter than traditional soybeans grown in fields by most farmers. Cooked and lightly salted, these little green beans are a popular snack in Asia. These beans often are sold in the freezer section of natural food stores and should be stored in the freezer. Fresh beans, purchased in the pod, should be cooked and stored in the refrigerator.

Whole, Dry Soybeans. Soybeans are harvested when they are fully mature and dry. As soybeans mature in the pod, they ripen into a hard, dry bean. Whole dry soybeans can be found in grocery and health food stores.

Most soybeans grown in fields by farmers are smaller than food-grade beans used to make tofu and soymilk. Field beans may be cleaned and used in recipes after they have been soaked and cooked.

Do not eat soybeans raw. Soybeans must be cooked to destroy the protease inhibitor found in soybeans. Heat treatment is necessary to decrease the activity of the inhibitors and improve the digestibility of the proteins.

Storage. Dry soybeans can be stored in an airtight container for long periods of time. Cooked soybeans, both yellow and black, are available in cans in natural food stores.

Cooking Tips. Substitute canned soybeans (white or black) in your favorite recipes that call for beans. Substitute green cooked soybeans in recipes that call for green peas or beans.

  • Do not add salt or acidic ingredients (such as tomatoes, lemon juice, or vinegar) to yellow soybeans until they are thoroughly cooked. Acidic products delay the softening process. However, you may add these ingredients when cooking black soybeans to help them retain their shape.
  • One 15 oz can of white or black soybeans is equal to 1 1/2 C of cooked soybeans.

Cooking Dry Soybeans. Remember that 1 C dry beans = 2-3 C cooked beans.

  • Soak soybeans in 4 C water for each cup of beans for 8 hours or overnight. If you soak beans longer than 8 hours, place them in the refrigerator.
  • Drain and rinse the beans, then add 4 C of fresh water for each cup of beans you started with.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and skim off excess foam. Simmer about 3 hours, adding more water as needed, until beans are tender. They will remain somewhat firm compared to cooked navy beans.

Pressure Cooker Method. Soybeans may also be prepared using a pressure cooker.

  • Place presoaked (8-12 hours soaked), drained, and rinsed beans in a pressure cooker.
  • Add 4 C water plus 2 T of cooking oil for the first cup of beans and 3 C of water and 2 T of vegetable oil for each additional cup of beans (oil controls foaming).
  • Do not fill the cooker above the halfway mark. Cook with 15 lb pressure for 9-12 minutes.
  • Release the pressure inside the cooker and drain beans immediately.

Textured Soy Protein

Product Description. Textured soy protein is one of the most economical soy protein sources on the market. It’s made from defatted soy flour or soy protein concentrate that is compressed and extruded into granules or chunks. It is sold as a dried, granular product. When rehydrated with water, textured soy protein has a texture similar to ground beef or other meat products.

Where to Find. Textured soy protein is not always easy to find in the supermarket. It’s normally carried in natural food stores in the bulk food area or the flour section. Because it is a dry product, you can find mail-order companies on the Internet that sell it.

Storage. Textured soy protein has a long shelf-life. Stored in a tightly closed container at room temperature, it will keep for several months. Once it has been rehydrated, store the textured soy protein in the refrigerator and use it within a few days.

Cooking Basics. Read the package directions for rehydration. When using textured soy protein in soups and sauces, you do not have to rehydrate it before use—just be sure the recipe has enough liquid. Texture soy protein chunks should be simmered a few minutes before using.

Recipe Tips. Use textured soy protein to replace all or part of the ground meat in almost any recipe. Replace one-fourth of the ground beef in meat loaf or burgers.

  • Generally, textured soy protein will triple in volume when hydrated. For example, 1 lb dry textured soy protein will yield about 3 lbs hydrated textured soy protein.
  • For 1 lb ground beef, substitute 1 1/2 C dry textured soy protein and hydrate with 1 1/2 C water.


Product Description. Tofu is probably the most versatile soy food to use in cooking. Also known as soybean curd, tofu is a soft, cheese-like food made by curdling fresh, hot soymilk with a coagulant. In recipes, tofu acts like a sponge and has the ability to soak up any flavor that is added to it.

Types of Tofu. Two main types of tofu are available in American grocery stores.

  • Water-packed (extra-firm, firm) tofu is dense and solid and maintains its shape well in stir-fry dishes, soups, or on the grill. Water must be squeezed out before using.
  • Silken (extra-firm, firm, soft, reduced-fat) tofu is made by a slightly different process that results in a creamy, custard-like product. Silken tofu works well in puréed or blended dishes.

Storage. Tofu most commonly is sold in water-filled tubs, vacuum packs, or in aseptic brick packages. Unless it is aseptically packaged, tofu should be kept cold. Once the tofu package is open, it should be rinsed and covered with fresh water for storage. Change the water daily to keep it fresh, and use the tofu within the week.

Tofu can be frozen for up to five months. The texture will be spongy, chewy, and more meat-like. After thawing, store tofu in the refrigerator, and squeeze out excess water before using.

Recipe Tips. Tofu’s versatility is reflected in the recipe ideas below.

  • Replace all or part of the cream in creamed soups with silken soft tofu.
  • Substitute puréed silken soft tofu for part of the mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, or ricotta cheese in a recipe. Use it in dips and creamy salad dressings.
  • Mix one box instant pudding mix, 1 1/2 C soymilk, and 10 oz of silken tofu for dessert. Chill for 2 hours.
  • Crumble tofu into a pot of spicy chili sauce.
  • Cubes of firm tofu can be added to any casserole or soup.
  • Slices of extra-firm tofu can be baked on a broiler pan at 375° F for 20-25 minutes. Marinate slices in your favorite sauce for extra flavor.
  • Substitute 1/4 C soft tofu for 1 egg in your favorite brownie mix.

Tofu Pressing. To reduce the amount of water in water-packed tofu, place block of tofu on an inverted pie plate or shallow dish. Stack another plate on top of the tofu. Add weight to the plate (use more dishes or canned goods) and wait 15-20 minutes; then poor off water.

Reprinted with permission from: The Soyfoods Guide 2003. Available at: