Making soy milk — Part 2

I didn’t mean for yesterday’s post to be a teaser.  I really thought I’d actually be writing about making soy milk, but when I sat down to write, there was just too much background and context for one post.  But I’m back and ready to get down to business!

The machine
I borrowed my friend’s Soyabella soy milk maker.  The website has a number of recipes for both soy and nut milks, though you have to go to the product manual to get the weight of soybeans to use for the most basic soy milk recipe.


Making soy milk
At it’s most basic, soy milk requires soy beans and water.  You start with dried soybeans (available in the bulk section at most natural food stores).  I had not one, but two small bags of old dried soy beans sitting around, from other times I’d intended to make soy milk, but I decided I should start with a fresher product. The Soyabella manual called for 70g-95g (2.5oz-3.5oz) dry soybeans per 1L batch.


As with all dried beans, the first step is soaking, either a quick soak, or an overnight (at least 8 hour) soak.  Once I had my hands on the machine, I wanted to make soy milk that day, so I went with the quick soak (add enough water to cover beans by an inch, bring to a boil, simmer 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and soak 2-3 hours).


After that, you add the soaked, drained beans to the grinding chamber, add the appropriate amount of water to the pitcher (I used filtered), push the “Milk” button, and voilá, about twenty minutes later, you have soy milk.

As suggested, I added a pinch of sea salt.  I also reluctantly added a bit of sugar (I switched to buying unsweetened soy milk about three years ago, and I don’t miss the sugar (7g per cup in my usual brand/variety) at all).  However, there’s a very good chance that there’s something sweet-tasting (stevia?) buried in that “natural flavor” portion of the ingredient list.  For my homemade version, I started with about 1 T. of sugar in 1 quart of soy milk, which comes out to < 3g sugar per cup of milk.


Initial results
The initial results were rather, “eh.”  It tasted very beany.  Granted, it is made from beans, but somehow, the soy-bean-only store-bought versions (TJ’s and WestSoy), while not exactly delicious, lack the pronounced beany flavor in my homemade product.

Inspired by a friend’s very positive review of Califia Farms Coconut Almond Milk, I had purchased some coconut cream in hopes that it might lead to an equally delicious soy milk.  (I did not try the Califia product myself, but I glanced at it in the store, and was duped into believing that it consisted of three ingredients: water, almonds, and coconut cream.  I like to think I’m a pretty good label reader, but a glance at the product link above reveals this milk is not as “pure” as it claims (for shame!):

Contains Less Than 2% Of The Following: Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Potassium Citrate, Natural Flavors, Gellan Gum, Carrageenan, Vitamin/Mineral Blend (Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin D2, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B2), Monk Fruit Concentrate.

So, maybe the coconut cream is not really the secret to this tasting good.)


Anyhow, I bought two different brands of coconut cream, and a coconut cream powder.  In the end, these helped a bit, but they were no miracle fix for the beany milk.  This batch was okay for making oatmeal and using for pancakes and waffles, but not inspiring otherwise.  It was usable on cold cereal, but didn’t pass the sipping test.

Other varieties
Not yet dissuaded in my quest for tasty, homemade soy milk, I started playing around.  My second batch of milk in the Soyabella was actually the walnut and almond milk, which is soy free.  The taste was decent (no beans = no beany taste), but it quickly separated into a particulate-heavy bottom and a watery top.

I did some research into eliminating the beany taste in homemade soy milk, and settled on the following fixes:

  • removing the hulls from the soybeans
  • adding a few peanuts to the blend
  • additional cook time for the finished milk

I first tried a batch just removing the hulls.  It tasted better, but I wasn’t satisfied.  The next round, I cut back the amount of soy beans and added a few [soaked] peanuts.  Once the soy milk maker did it’s thing, I dumped the milk into a pan and simmered on very low for about twenty minutes.

The result was WEIRD.  It might have tasted okay, if I was able to get past the texture, but, no.  I’m guessing the stove top cooking, in addition to the cooking that happens in the maker, overcooked it, because the result was ridiculously thick and gloppy.  Adding more water after the fact didn’t help.  I got through this quart by using it primarily for oatmeal.  It was not good for cold cereal or sipping, and I didn’t want to waste good chocolate by using it for hot chocolate.  (In the interest of full disclosure, my other variable here was that I didn’t use only soy beans — I mixed things up a bit by using some black beans, but I really don’t think that was the problem.)

Another method
Some of my research into reducing the beany taste led me to recipes that don’t require a soy milk maker (here and here).  These recipes, which had seemed so daunting before, didn’t look so bad now.  The basic process was the same, minus the convenience of a single machine: soak the beans, grind with hot water (in a blender), filter (using a nut milk bag), and cook (on the stove top).

In the Soyabella, the milk “cooks” while still in contact with the filtered soy bean remains (known as okara).  I was curious if this arrangement (which you can’t avoid if you’re using the machine) intensified the beany flavor.  Armed with a blender and a nut milk bag for straining, I was ready to ditch the machine.


70 g beans (I used mostly soy beans, but I substituted a few chick peas), soaked and hulled
20-30g cashews (raw, unsalted), soaked
1 L boiling water

I pureed the [soaked] beans, nuts, and boiling water in two batches in the blender; filtered it through the nut milk bag; and simmered it on low, stirring frequently, for about twenty minutes.  I added a pinch of salt and 1 T. of sugar, and, hold on to your hats . . . .

. . . . it tasted good!  I actually enjoyed sipping this milk, and it passed the cold cereal test, wonder of wonders!

Back to the machine
To test things a bit further, I returned to the soy milk maker and used the same bean-cashew blend as above.  The result was okay, but, for better or worse, definitely not as good as the non-machine version.

On the one hand, I don’t have to run out and drop $100+ on a soy milk maker.  On the other hand, while making soy milk without a dedicated machine is not as daunting as I’d feared, the machine version requires less hands-on time than the blend, filter, heat and stir on stove top method.  Adding that time up every week could make the not-quite-as-tasty machine version an okay compromise.

Check back for one more post on final thoughts including ease of clean-up, using the okara, cost comparison, and health effects of going “carrageenan-free.”



Making soy milk — Part 1

Looking back, we’ve been talking about making our own soy milk for over two years now, when a friend first offered to let us try her soy milk maker.  For one reason or another, it took me quite awhile to actually take her up on the offer.  (You can make soy milk without a special machine, but, to a newbie, those recipes seemed complicated and labor intensive.  I bought soy beans, intending to try, but it never happened.)

Why make your own

  • Save money???
  • Reduce packaging waste (soy milk packaging is recyclable, but reducing >> recycling!)
  • Avoid additives in store-bought soy milk, particularly carrageenan
  • Better taste than carrageenan-free, store-bought options???

I could write an entire post on that last bullet point, but we’ll try the brief version.  Carrageenan is a “natural” additive,  derived from a type of seaweed, used in food as a thickener and/or emulsifier to improve flavor and mouth feel.  It’s found in many processed foods, not just soy milk.

WebMD says carrageenan is, “safe for most people in food amounts,” but the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) gives carrageenan a “Caution” rating, stating “May pose a risk and needs to be better tested. Try to avoid.”  (For a full report on carrageenan and human health, with links to peer-reviewed research, see this publication from the Cornucopia Institute.)  There is evidence that it may be especially prudent for individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome or other GI disorders to avoid consuming carrageenan.

I am not affected by any GI disorders, but the CSPI’s “Caution” rating was enough to make me want to investigate alternatives, and store-bought soy milk is the main source of carrageenan in my diet.

Soy milk consumption
When it comes down to it, I don’t consume all that much soy milk.  I’m not drinking three 8-ounce glasses per day.  In fact, I rarely drink soy milk at all.  I consume 1/3 to 1/2 cup a day in my oatmeal.  Some days, that’s it.  Other days, I have a bit more, either in hot chocolate, with cold cereal, or, very rarely as something I sip with a cookie.  A bit more slips into my diet some days via our homemade pancakes and waffles, but I think it’s safe to say that I average less than one cup of soy milk a day, total.

My other concern, of course, is Gabriel.  I would estimate his soy milk consumption at about 1/2 cup most days.  While he likely consumes a bit less than me, his body is smaller than mine, and perhaps more vulnerable to questionable ingredients.  As far as I know, Gabriel does not suffer from any GI disorders — he doesn’t complain of stomach pain, and his bowel movements are regular.

Store-bought options
A few years ago, I decided it was important to eat organic soy as much as possible.  This decision was not necessarily for health reasons, but rather to avoid GMO soybeans (avoiding the GMOs is also not necessarily for health reasons; for me, it’s about avoiding big agribusiness that threatens small-scale, local growers and food systems).

Based on availability and price, my go-to, store-bought soy milk is Silk Organic Unsweetened, which is readily available at most grocery stores, sold refrigerated in a half-gallon carton.  Sometimes I’d mix things up and buy the equivalent store-brand product at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  The ingredient lists on these products were pretty similar: water, organic soybeans, carrageenan, sea salt, and “natural flavor.”

For carrageenan-free options, I tried Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Organic and WestSoy organic unsweetened.  Both of these come in aseptic quart cartons and do not require refrigeration until after opening.  Ingredients are simply water and organic soybeans.

To me, the carrageenan-free options were missing something in the taste department.  They were fine for my oatmeal and for cooking (e.g., making pancakes), and okay for hot chocolate, but not particularly appealing on cold cereal or for sipping.

Making my own
Part of my motivation for making my own was to see if I could make something that tasted good, without carrageenan and other “natural flavor” additives.

The other motivation was the waste factor: the store-bought options without carrageenan only come in quarts (vs. the half-gallons size of Silk and similar products).  Smaller quantities mean a higher packaging to product ratio, so by switching to the [quart-sized] carrageenan-free option, I was going to be generating proportionally more trash.  Uck.

L to R: Trader Joe’s (sans carrageenan), homemade (with soy milk maker in background), and my beloved, tasty (but maybe not good for me?) Silk

Plus, what exactly is in the lining of those aseptic containers?  Nothing beats a good, old-fashioned glass jar!

When I started questioning carrageenan, my friend again offered to let me borrow her soy milk maker.  The timing was particularly good, because her family had taken a break from using it.  It’s been great getting to try the machine, and the resulting product, before committing to buying an appliance just for making soy milk.

I’ve been experimenting with it for three weeks now.  I’ve tried straight-up soy milk, plus a number of variations: adding coconut cream, a peanut soy blend, a cashew soy blend, and even a version that used some black beans.  Tomorrow, I’ll report back on the results!