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Milking the bean
Manufacturers find new ways to sell soymilk


By Carole Sugarman
The Washington Post
Published February 13, 2002

Five years ago, someone decided to think outside the box. Back then, soy milk was poured into aseptic (shelf-stable) boxes where it sat in a health food store or on a grocery shelf, sometimes in a specialty foods aisle that was away from mainstream shoppers.

Then in 1996, White Wave, makers of Silk, decided to put its soy milk in cartons and sell them chilled. And pit them squarely against dairy milk.

Other soy manufacturers followed. Recently, General Mills and Dupont Protein Technologies International launched 8th Continent, a refrigerated soy milk packaged in a sleek blue plastic bottle that stands out from the crowd of dairy and soy cartons. Now, refrigerated soy milks outsell the shelf-stable variety, according to SPINS Inc., a San-Francisco market research firm that provides information to health food manufacturers.

But there's more to it than just the new location and the new container. Soy milk, made from combining extracted whole soybean solids or other soy proteins with water, has always had a "beany" or papery flavor component. New methods have helped to remove that flavor, and sweeteners and flavorings (vanilla is the country's best-seller) have made the milky liquid more palatable. "The quality has gone from a dingy yellow liquid to an almost milklike product," says Andy Jacobson, president of natural products for the Hain Celestial Group, which makes WestSoy soy milks.

An Asian staple domesticated by the American health-food industry some 30 years ago, soy milk now has taken off, with sales in the United States growing from $1.5 million in 1980 to nearly $550 million in 2001. The most rapidly growing segment is supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, whose sales more than tripled from $77 million in 1999 to $242 million in 2001, according to SPINS.

These numbers have not gone unnoticed by the dairy industry. In February 2000 the National Milk Producers Federation filed a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration seeking to banish the term "soy milk" from grocery shelves and dairy cases. The milk producers argued that the liquid extracted from soybeans is not milk and that the soy manufacturers were taking advantage of the positive image of dairy terminology in their labeling. Soy producers tend to play up the brand names of their products--Silk or WestSoy Plus, for example--and condense the generic term to "soymilk."

While soy milk consumption is still small compared with dairy milk consumption, its growing popularity is not surprising. Studies have shown that soy may have a positive effect on everything from menopausal symptoms to cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease. In 1999, the federal government began permitting the labels of soy-based foods containing at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving to state that the product may reduce the risk of heart disease. Soy milk manufacturers were quick to start using this health claim, as most soy milks contain at least that amount of soy protein in an eight-ounce serving. (Still, you have to drink four glasses per day, as research shows that 25 grams of soy protein is needed to derive those health benefits.)

While some consumers are turning to soy milk for its positive effects, another audience seeks soy as a replacement for dairy products. Vegetarians who want to avoid dairy are one segment of this group, and those suffering from lactose intolerance are another. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse estimates that 30 million to 50 million Americans are unable to digest lactose, the predominant sugar in dairy milk.

This growth has been great for the product but at times confusing for consumers. There are so many differences among soy milks that it's hard to know what's in them, how they compare and which you should buy. The range of flavors is vast, so personal preference plays a large role. And, in addition to the soy milks on supermarket shelves, some Chinese and Vietnamese markets make it fresh every day.

Fortified or low-fat, soy milk branches out

This may help you sort out the differences among the increasing numbers of products.

Fortified or not

One big difference between soy milk and dairy milk is the amount of calcium each naturally contains. Although soybeans do have some calcium, "it's not a whole lot," says Cynthia Sass, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and an avid soy milk drinker.

The early soy milks introduced in the United States were not fortified with calcium (nor vitamins A and D) to approximate the nutrient content of dairy milk because they were never intended to be a substitute for regular milk. It was only after a more mainstream audience got interested that soy milk manufacturers began fortifying the milk. Still, many companies continue to make an unfortified version.

Which should you buy? If you're replacing dairy milk with soy milk, buy a fortified one, suggests Sass. If you're just adding soy milk to your diet and plan to continue to consume lots of cheese, yogurt and regular milk, then it's not as crucial to buy a fortified product, she said.

From no fat to plenty

Most full-fat soy milks have about the same amount of calories and fat as 2 percent dairy milk. But unlike dairy milk, they have no cholesterol, and the fat is plant-based--"the healthy type," Sass said. In other words, it's not necessary to purchase fat-free or low-fat soy milk to avoid cholesterol.

In addition, when the fat is reduced in soy milk (primarily by diluting it with water), the protein level goes down. And it's the protein that makes soybeans so beneficial in the first place.

Peter Golbitz, president and publisher of Soyatech--a market research firm that provides services for the soybean, oilseed, and food and feed industries--says that if you're buying soy milk strictly for its nutritional benefits, then "look for products with the highest protein levels." These drinks also tend to be thicker and creamier. On the other hand, if you're looking for a lighter, refreshing drink, a soy milk lower in fat and protein may be more suitable.

Isoflavone content

Isoflavones, a plant form of estrogen found in soy protein, is believed by some to provide beneficial effects, particularly to women experiencing symptoms of menopause. (Research indicates that the isoflavones themselves are not effective unless they bond with the protein, so isoflavone supplements are quite controversial.) Many soy manufacturers splash the isoflavone content of their soy milk on their labels, even though it's unclear that more is better. Manufacturers say that there are wide variances in the isoflavone content that occurs in soybeans, and the labels reflect that.

The label of VitaSoy Creamy Original soy milk, for example, says it contains 60 milligrams of "naturally occurring" isoflavones per serving, significantly higher than the 30- to 40-milligram range of many other full-fat products.

Dietitian Sass, though, believes that it's not necessary to buy a soy milk laden with isoflavones. "The consensus is that the amount that is naturally found is helpful," she said.

The sugar factor

Most soy milks are sweetened to make them more drinkable. Dairy milk, which contains naturally occurring sugar, comes in at 12 to 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Some soy milks, particularly flavored ones, contain considerably more, Sass said. Silk's chocolate flavor has 23 grams, for instance, but Vitasoy's original flavor has only 9 grams.

Cooking with it

"I have found almost identical results between soy milk and cows' milk," says vegetarian cookbook author Mollie Katzen, who tests recipes using both kinds.

Dana Jacobi, author of "Amazing Soy," has cooked with almost every brand and variety of soy milk and believes it can be substituted equally in recipes calling for dairy milk, but with a few caveats: "In most cooking, I use an unsweetened soy milk." Although it's more difficult to find (WestSoy and Pacific are two companies that make unsweetened varieties), when making savory dishes such as cream of broccoli soup, Jacobi said, "Who wants sugar?"

She also has found that soy milk sometimes caramelizes and turns brown when heated, so she tries to use it in recipes with "high color" ingredients. When it comes to making pastry cream with soy milk, for example, she'll usually do a chocolate-flavored one.

Packaging

Most refrigerated and shelf-stable aseptic soy milks are processed using ultra-high temperature pasteurization, says Bill Fenske, director of research and development at Sunrich, a Minnesota company that makes soy milk ingredients. The difference between them is the way they are packaged, he said.

According to WestSoy, which makes both kinds of soy milk, the aseptic container has a foil layer that prevents air or moisture from entering, allowing the unopened milk to remain sterile for at least a year. The refrigerated packaging lacks this foil layer.

Most people cannot tell a difference in taste between the aseptically packaged and the refrigerated kind, as long as they are both served chilled, says Jacobson of WestSoy.

Chicago Tribune
 

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Thanks for posting this.

I am a fan of soydream vanilla, Silk French Vanilla cream and Vita soy vanilla. I use West Soy unsweetened in cooking a lot.

Eden soy is too beany tasting for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Have you used soy milk in baked goods Mark? If so is it true there is no difference in the final product? I'm specially curious about the taste it gives.
 

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I use soy milk and silken tofu all the time and it does not alter the taste. I dare any dairy consumer to tell the difference between my chocolate cheesecake and a dairy cheesecake.


I highly recommend Soy Dream which has a smooth and silky texture and pleasant lightly sweet taste.

When I make mashed potatoes I add a few tablespoons of Westsoy unsweetened with Extra Virgin olive oil. My clients can not get enough of these potatoes. One former client did not like the mashed potatoes, but then again she didn't like anything I prepared. Her husband loved every single dish including the vegetarian dishes and he was a big meat and seafood eater.














:)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
You have convinced me Mark. I'll try it this week and will let you know.

Thank!
 
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