Monday, November 5, 2012

Cooking Floyd: Making Soy Milk

Michael has always had a bit of a problem digesting cow's milk.  He's a 1% or skim milk man.  Me, I'm a poster girl for the dairy association.  I want my milk full fat and straight from the cow whenever possible.  Then Michael tried soy milk.  Then almond milk.  And quite frankly, until we discovered Silk unsweetened organic soy milk  I found the stuff to be not-milk.  Icky.  The Silk unsweetened was a compromise but the label still reads like a chem lab: Organic Soymilk (Filtered Water, Whole Organic Soybeans), Calcium Carbonate, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors, Carrageenan, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12.  Added calcium and added vitamins to compete nutritionally with cow's milk and added "natural flavors" and carrageenan (a seaweed used as a thickener) to approximate the taste and mouth-feel of cow's milk.  Average cost around here for a half gallon: $3.50

Michael and I decided to try making soy milk.
Ingredients: 1 cup (6 oz.) soy beans, water.
Cost of a half gallon: $.38 and a little time.

Now I have no intention of giving up my dairy products, but I have come to appreciate some things about soy milk.  It makes mashed and pureed vegetables and soups very smooth and velvety.  And really, when you're adding in generous amounts of butter anyway (mashed potatoes must have butter!) it's reasonable to cut down on fat somewhere else.  What it doesn't do is make good pudding or yogurt. Or ice cream.  Sour cream and creme fraiche, not so much. Not in my opinion anyway.  But homemade tofu is a revelation (who knew!!) and we'll be getting into that in the next post.

We get our non-gmo soybeans from Oasis World Market in Blacksburg, Va for ninety-nine cents a pound.  In fact, we get a lot of decidedly exotic non-local things there too and it's an excellent source for reasonably priced hard to find spices.  In Floyd we get the beans from the Harvest Moon for $1.83/lb (which would put the price of a half gallon of soy milk up to about .68).

Start out by covering a cup of soybeans with water that comes to an inch or so above them and soak over night.

The beans have absorbed enough water when one splits apart easily and the halves are flat and ivory colored without a dark center.
Needs to soak longer
Ready to go
The soy beans can be soaked a few days in advance and held in the refrigerator if necessary.  Drain and reserve the soaking water and refrigerate the beans and the water separately until your ready to make the milk.

When the soybeans are ready, drain the soaking water from them and reserve it.  Set aside 2 cups of the soaking water.   Place a non-reactive 6 quart pot on the stove.  Measure what's left of the soaking water into this pot and add enough water to it to bring it to a total of 5 cups of water in the pot.  The soaking water has nutritional elements in it from the beans so I try to recapture what I can.  Start this water heating over medium heat but don't allow to boil.

Place a fine sieve or colander over a medium bowl and line it with a dampened pressing cloth.  I use a flour sacking towel (available from Walmart or Dollar General, cheap).  You can use muslin from your local fabric store as well.  I find cheesecloth tears too easily and isn't reusable.  The flour sacking rinses easily and you can throw it in the washer and dryer.

Dump the soy beans into a blender or food processor with the reserved 2 cups of soaking water.  Grind them on the highest speed until until you have a thick, smooth, ivory puree of a milkshake consistency.
The smoother you get the puree, the easier it will be to extract the milk and the better the yield will be.

Add this puree to the pot of hot water.  Place another half cup of water in the blender or processor and run it for a few seconds.  Pour this into the pot as well.
Cook the milk over a medium heat stirring frequently with a wooden spatula in a Z motion to prevent scorching, until a foam forms and rises.  This takes anywhere from 3-6 minutes and can surprise you.  If you've been stirring for awhile and the milk is frothy but you haven't gasped and gone WHOA! yet, the foam hasn't risen.  You'll know when it happens.  Take it immediately off the heat or it will boil over.
Risen foam-it's up to the handle bolts. Take it off the heat!
Kinda like meringue.
Off the heat and the foam has fallen.  Entire time lapse under a minute.
Next, ladle the hot mixture into the the cloth-lined sieve over the bowl (or a smaller pot, you're going to cook the milk again).

When all the milk has been ladled through, gather up the cloth and twist it into a bag.  Use the ladle to press down on the bag, extracting as much milk as possible.  Twist the bag tighter and repeat as necessary.

Open the bag (still in the sieve) and pour a half cup of warm water over the lees.  Twist the bag shut and squeeze what you can out of it.
The bag and the lees are going to be hot so it's okay to let it cool down a bit so you can handle it.

Save the lees.  They're loaded with fiber and about 17% protein from the original beans.  Add them to croquettes or other loaf-like foods.  Toss them in soups and they'll turn them into creamy chowders.  Add them to baked goods or hot cereals.  Toss them in stir fries.  The lees will keep up to 1 week in the fridge or you can freeze them.  If you don't want to eat them yourself, mix them in with your pet's food.  Chickens love them!

Return the extracted milk to the pot.  Soybean protein needs to be fully cooked to be digestible.  Bring the milk to a gentle simmer where you can just see steam rising and bubbles gently pop and reform around the edge of the milk.  Hold it at this temperature for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.  After this second heating the soy milk is ready for drinking, cooking, or tofu making.  If you are using the soy milk to make tofu you should continue on with the tofu steps right away.  If you are not using it right away allow the milk to cool naturally.  A skin may form on the top and some people consider this a delicacy to drizzle with a little soy sauce and eat.  You can also double this recipe if you use large amounts of soy milk.

The next post will deal with how to make tofu.  So easy!  And you can make flavored tofu too!  Who knew?!
If you find you like making soy milk and tofu I highly recommend Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu.  In it she explains making rich, medium and light soy milks (this milk is light), different types and consistencies of tofu, and a trove of recipes that'll make your mouth water.


  1. Hello Rebecca,

    I have to say that this is totally cool and I'm definitely going to have to give this a try. Soy milk is very expensive and, I too, prefer the Silk brand. My problem is that I don't care for all the sugar that's processed into the milk to make it more palatable. Soy milk is great over homemade granola cereal, too.

    I also make a really terrific lasagna substituting tofu for the ricotta cheese. This is a favorite of everyone who tries it, even the most picky of eaters (much to my pleasant surprise) and now I'm off to read the rest of your series on the awesome soybean.

    Debbie...(O: in normally sunny NW Florida

  2. Hi Debbie! We're fans of Silk Unsweetened. I believe it has a green label. It's the closest to milk mouth feel and taste that I've found so far in the commercial brands. I've been pretty well satisfied with soy milk in most everything I've cooked with it. I think it makes exceptionally silky veg purees and mashed potatoes. Where it fails for me is in puddings, custards and ice creams.

    We've converted a lot of people recently with tofu marinated in garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and cornstarch and then baked for 20 minutes on a non-stick sheet at 500F. It gets crispy outside and creamy inside, is great on salads but even better as a snack!