This versatile bean is best known as an excellent source of protein, and any form of the bean—be it edamame, tofu, tempeh, soy nuts or ground soy isolates used to make soy burgers—is an excellent plant source of high-quality protein. In addition, soy delivers fiber, some iron and the phytoestrogens daidizein and genistein, which are thought to have a wide range of health benefits for immune function, cardiac health and menopausal symptoms.
Edamame are fresh soybeans that look like bright green lima beans. Their flavor is sweet and mild, with a touch of “beaniness.” Edamame are found in the natural-foods freezer section of large supermarkets and natural-foods stores, sold both in and out of the “pods.” One 10-ounce bag contains about 2 cups of shelled beans. Look for fresh ones at farmers’ markets or natural-foods stores.
Miso is fermented soybean paste made by inoculating a mixture of soybeans, salt and grains (usually barley or rice) with koji, a beneficial mold. Akamiso (red miso), made from barley or rice and soybeans, is salty and tangy, and the most commonly used miso in Japan. Use in marinades for meat and oily fish, and in long-simmered dishes. Shiromiso (sweet or white miso), made with soy and rice, is yellow and milder in flavor; use for soup, salad dressings and sauces for fish or chicken. Look for it in the natural-foods section of most supermarkets and in Asian markets.
Soy flour is made from mature soybeans that have been dried, hulled, split and ground into flour. The texture is denser than wheat flour and it has a pronounced flavor some describe as “beany.” It is available in both full-fat and defatted varieties. Look for soy flour in natural-foods stores.
Soy nuts are mature soybeans that have been soaked then roasted, either in oil or using a dry-roasting process. Crunchy, with a texture like crumbly peanuts, they’re often creatively flavored.
Soy sauce is a dark fermented liquid made from soybeans. It can be found in the Asian section of most supermarkets, in natural-foods stores or Asian grocery stores.
Soymilk is a dairy-free milk made from pressed, cooked and ground soybeans. It can be found in natural-foods stores and in most supermarkets in the dairy case or on shelves in aseptic packaging.
Tempeh is a chewy, nutty, fermented soybean loaf. Find it (plain or with added grains) near refrigerated tofu in natural-foods stores and many large supermarkets.
Tofu is “soybean curd” made by heating soymilk and a curdling agent in a process similar to dairy cheesemaking. The longer the pressing, the firmer and denser the tofu. Silken tofu is delicate and custardlike, perfect for pureeing and using in dressings, smoothies, sauces or floating in delicate soups. Extra-firm tofu is ideal for stir-fries, sautés and grilling, while the soft variety makes a good substitute for ricotta in Italian dishes or for eggs in quiches. Firm tofu is a good all-purpose choice. Tofu is available at natural-foods stores and most large supermarkets. Look for water-packed tofu in the produce section and aseptic-packaged tofu with other Asian ingredients.
Fresh and cooked edamame should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Miso keeps for months in the refrigerator.
Full-fat soy flour can go rancid quickly; keep it in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or in the freezer for up to 1 year. Defatted soy flour can be kept unrefrigerated.
Store soy nuts in the refrigerator for up to 3 months after opening.
Soy sauce should be refrigerated after opening.
Unopened aseptically-packaged soymilk can be stored at room temperature for several months. Refrigerated soymilk should be stored in the refrigerator. Opened soymilk should be stored in the refrigerator and should stay fresh for 5 days.
Store tempeh wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator for up to 5 days after opening.
Tofu will last 5 to 7 days after opening. Store in a loosely sealed container of water in the refrigerator, changing the water daily. You can also freeze tofu for up to 5 months. (Don’t be surprised if the frozen tofu turns a light shade of caramel and has a slightly chewier texture.)
The United States is the world’s largest producer of soybeans.