Saturday, March 22, 2008

Soy Milk - Make or Buy?

Here is a brief history of soy milk from my perspective:

164 BC - Soy milk was (probably) invented in China in 164 BC by Liu An of the Han Dynasty.

164 BC - 2001 AD - yada yada yada

2001 AD - When I first started eating a vegan diet in 2001 it was available at certain stores in aseptic packaging (the cardboard packages that don't have to be refrigerated until opened) or as a dry mix.

2008 and beyond... - Now you can find it at most grocery stores in the dairy section or in aseptic packaging. Even Walmart is getting a piece of the action with an organic line of soy milk marketed under its Great Value brand.

What is it? Soy milk is the result of cooking soy beans, blending them in hot water, and then straining out the pulp. Most commercially available soy milks are also flavored with salt, sweetener, vanilla, chocolate, etc. The pulp that is left behind is called "okara" and is high in nutrients and fiber. Soy milk is also a precursor to tofu. If you want to be a tofu scholar you should start at Wikipedia.

One attractive aspect of making your own soy milk is the cost savings. If you are a single person and rarely eat cereal, and never want to make vegan ice cream or pudding that calls for soy milk, then the price might not seem like a big deal. However a cereal loving family with one or more kids stands to save a lot of money if they decide to be frugal and make rather than buy. Here is a price comparison (based on prices at the time of this blog entry.) Note that the refrigerated and aseptically package soy milk typically comes in either a 1 quart or 1/2 gallon size. The prices in the table are based on the equivalent price per gallon.

Soy milk Price Comparison
storebrand packaging$/gallonnotes
WalmartGreat Valuerefrigerated$4.92store brand
Silkrefrigerated$5.52national brand
CostcoKirklandaseptic$4.00store brand
AmazonBetter Than Milkdry mix$5.00great for camping/hiking
homeyou choosepitcherpennies

As you can see there is a lot of money to be saved if you are willing to be milk some beans. A few years ago I was trying to be frugal and do just that. I purchased an automatic soy milk maker thinking I would use it all the time. What could be better than fresh soy milk that is easy to make and costs next to nothing?

What I found out was that I didn't like the flavor of fresh soy milk as well as what I could buy. From what I have read most people don't like the flavor as much. I also found out that it is not that easy to make.

The process of brewing a batch isn't difficult, but cleaning the machine and straining the milk is a real pain. I don't mind doing it once in awhile, but not every other day. If you don't strain it it will be gritty.

Another problem I had was with the soy milk going bad really fast (within 3 days). And when you have a batch turn sour, watch out. It smells bad and even starts to look slimy. If you are careful to scald everything that will touch the soy milk this will be less of a problem.

I had the best luck with Bryanna Grogan's always-creamy-never-beany recipe. This rice/soy milk tasted fairly close to what you can get from the store. If you do make your own and dislike the beany flavor of most homemade soy milk recipes then you should give hers a try.

If you want to try homemade soy milk without investing $100 in a maker you can do it the old fashion way, with a blender. I have never tried it this because I read that the temperature is difficult to control, and that getting the temperature right is critical to getting good flavor. The automatic soy milk makers (pictured below) have a built-in thermostat so the temperature is perfect every time.

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