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Tasting soy milks

I admit it, I find soy milk suspicious. Sure, it works nicely as a creamy substitute in soups; and the occasional soy cheese I’ve had at izakaya restaurants has been tasty. I’ve even had a couple soy-based ice cream sandwiches which nearly fooled me, taste and texture-wise.

But soy milk. As a drink, especially a sweet one. Ick, beany. They say, “Hey! It’s bland! It should be fine.” Eh? Don’t be fooled, bean flavors can be strong, too. A strong bean flavor in a drink that I expect to be non-savory? Does not compute.

Then I had the soy matcha shake at Samovar. Surprise! It was dehleeshuss. The trick to learn, as in food-drink matching: counter or complement a strong flavor with other strong flavors.

Many articles online suggested using vanilla or chocolate flavored soy milks. Unless it comes from an excellent Bourbon-based extract, vanilla sugar, or directly from the bean itself, I usually don’t like vanilla flavorings. I think the predominantly used vanillin, which is but a component of the natural stuff, lends an artificial taste.

So, why not do my own not-so-scientific tastings? I don’t plan on removing dairy from my diet, but soy milk could be fun, new territory to explore. I’ve tasted five brands, described below. I will update this article as I try more out.

Considering my past views on soy milk, I’ll hold off trying the chocolate flavored choices for now. Quite a few non-flavored soy milks (labeled as “plain” or “original”) add sugar, and while I do prefer a sweeter edge to milk-like drinks(*), I’d rather be in control of the amount and type of sweetening. After all, sweetness might be unwanted if it’s used in a savory dish, like chowder.

(*)To be honest, I never enjoyed drinking a glass of plain milk, hot, warm or cold, whole, lowfat or nonfat. Add it to coffee, tea, or flavor it with chocolate or spices, please. But neat? Yuck.

So, for this article:

  • Focus on unsweetened soy milks, where the fat content has not been purposely reduced. I want to keep this experiment simplified, even though there are so many variations on sweetening and lowfat (or light).
  • Use chilled soy milk from shelf-stable containers, unless otherwise stated.
  • Soy milk is low in calcium. Some brands are enriched with calcium and other nutrients, some aren’t. (Okay, so much for true simplification here. O:-)) Keep in mind that adding calcium and other minerals often results in chalkiness or saltiness. Adding vitamin supplements could also change the flavor. Therefore companies try to offset the strange tastes and textures of these enrichments by adding natural thickeners (carrageenan) and flavorings (sugars (sigh), grain extracts, salt, etc.).
  • Soy milk is not the same as cow milk. That’s an important fact. Food expectation readjustments are indicated. Easier said than done, of course. But rather than constantly pitting the two against each other, focus on the unique aspects of soy milk which can be positive: Especially nutty flavors.
  • Sometimes I’ll try it with honey, green tea (Sencha) powder, or over granola. I’ll post a separate recipe for green tea soy milk.

WestSoy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk

WestSoy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk. Made from filtered water and organic soybeans; not enriched, so no other ingredients. Smooth and creamy, and not too shabby on its own. But over granola it seemed a bit watery. Has a mild, nutty flavor. Tastes yummy flavored with honey. Really yummy when flavored with honey and green tea powder.

WestSoy doesn’t seem to make an unsweetened enriched variety, but according to their website, the Low Fat Plain might come close. However, it contains malt barley and corn, which might sweeten it.

Kikkoman Pearl Unsweetened Organic Soymilk

Kikkoman Pearl Unsweetened Organic Soymilk. This enriched drink contained natural vanilla flavor. In fact, so does their Original flavor, in spite of having a separate Creamy Vanilla flavor. Annoying lack of simplicity? When this was at room temperature, I could definitely feel a chalkiness, likely coming from the nutrient supplements.

After being chilled, though, I could only mildly sense the chalkiness. Couldn’t detect vanilla (good), but it had a more beany flavor than nuttiness. Adding honey is fine, but with the addition of the green tea, it seemed a bit too bitter and the chalkiness seemed somewhat more obvious. I added more honey to help balance the flavor.

I noticed the vanilla flavor when using this soy milk over my morning granola. Not good: I don’t want vanilla in my cereal —another strike against this brand.

Edensoy Unsweetened Organic Soymilk

The unsweetened soy milk by Edensoy contained only filtered water and soybeans. Unlike the Westsoy brand, this one had a disturbing acrid finish, which neither honey nor green tea powder could hide or balance. This clearly showed how soy milk brands can differ so much from each other. The aftertaste was more hidden when having it with granola. But the soy milk also seemed thin and watery in this application, oddly enough.

Interestingly, this soy milk had the highest fat content: 6 grams rather than the usual 4 to 4.5 grams per 8 ounce serving, for non-reduced soy milk. Edensoy also had the highest protein content, at 12 grams per serving.

Silk Unsweetened Soymilk

Silk’s soy milk is the first calcium enriched one which didn’t seem chalky. Creamy, with a pleasant nuttiness. Yummy with honey and green tea powder.

This soy milk had a bit less protein than the others: 7 grams per 8 fluid ounce serving, rather than the more common 8 to 9 grams. I wonder why that is. (Over a brief comparison, I noticed that various lowfat soy milks often had as little as 4 grams of protein!) In any case, I’m glad the supplements didn’t negatively affect the texture like other enriched soy milks.

I do wish manufacturers would be more specific than saying “natural flavorings” in their ingredient list. This soy milk tasted good, but it did not disclose the specifics of its flavorings.

VitaSoy Unsweetened Original Soymilk

Vitasoy Unsweetened Original Soymilk is another enriched drink. Creamy, yet…has an odd coconut flavor. Its ingredient list didn’t mention coconut (contained the mysterious “natural flavorings”). VitaSoy had the same protein and fat content as Silk.

VitaSoy’s distinct coconuttiness was its weak point. I’m rather picky about coconut, and this soy milk’s flavor really put me off —even with honey and green tea.

Sogo Tofu’s Organic Soybean Drink

Added 15 Aug 2008. Sogo Tofu in San José, CA specializes in organic soybean products and vegetarian Taiwanese foods. I enjoy their peanut rice milk shake and the spicy pressed tofu sauté, but I really dislike the flavor of their soy milk. It had that sour-acrid taste which is very bothersome. I had to “hide” it by adding quite a lot of sugar or honey, but then it became too sweet; mixing in with the peanut shake made it somewhat passable. But, still. Soy milk shouldn’t be unpalatable by itself.

Sogo’s had the simplest ingredient list: filtered water and organic soybeans. That does make me wonder about the additives in other brands (including my current favorite by Silk), as well as the process they use. I’ve had a homemade soy milk before, at the Vietnamese restaurant Vung Tau in San José, which I did like. Their version was mildly tart, yet also pleasant to drink.

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