Long popular in the East, soyfoods have only recently found a home in Western kitchens. Yet beyond tofu, many people are still at a loss about what to do with the versatile bean. Use the primer below as one might use a tour guide to a foreign culture. All these soyfoods can be found in supermarkets, natural-foods stores or Asian groceries.
What it is: Miso is fermented soybean paste made by inoculating a mixture of soybeans, salt and grains (usually barley or rice) with koji, a beneficial mold. Aged for up to 3 years, miso is undeniably salty, but a little goes a long way.
What to do with it:
What it is: Mature soybeans that have been dried, hulled and split can be ground into flour. The texture is denser than wheat flour and it has a pronounced flavor some describe as "beany."
What to do with it: Soy flour makes a good protein-rich substitute for wheat flour in recipes, but because it contains no gluten, replace no more than one-quarter of the total flour called for. 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.
What it is: Extracted from pressed, cooked and ground soybeans, soymilk has come a long way since researchers deciphered how to eliminate its beany flavor a few decades ago.
What to do with it: Use like cow’s milk—though no matter what the label advertises, the flavor and color will be different.
Soymilk taste test: The taste and color of soymilk varies considerably from brand to brand. In a tasting of 8 different soymilks, the EatingWell staff generally preferred the "fresh" (as opposed to aseptic-packaged) varieties. Sun Soy, Silk and Vitasoy were favored brands. The dark beige color of aseptic soymilks can also be unappetizing. Avoid the fat-free types (which generally taste awful) in favor of reduced-fat versions; check labels for too many added sugars.
What it is: These mature soybeans have been soaked then roasted, either in oil or using a dry-roasting process. Crunchy, with a texture like mealy peanuts, they’re often creatively flavored.
What to do with it: Eat them out of hand, in snack mixes or sprinkle them on salads. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months after opening. Because of their high calorie content, best enjoyed in small doses.
What it is: Cooked soybeans, sometimes combined with rice or millet, that have been inoculated with a beneficial mold and allowed to ferment briefly, resulting in a chewy, nut-flavored soybean loaf. The grains are covered with a whitish mold, which is fully edible.
What to do with it: Commonly vacuum-sealed, sometimes marinated, smoked or grilled, tempeh is usually found next to the tofu in the store. Crumble a little into scrambled eggs, slice and sauté to make a decent veggie burger, or use like meat in stir-fries, stews or tomato sauce. Store tempeh wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator for up to 5 days after opening.
What it is: "Soybean curd" is made by heating soymilk and a curdling agent in a process similar to dairy cheesemaking. Allowed to stand and thicken, the curds form silken tofu. When stirred and separated from the whey, the pressed curds, with their spongier texture, are known as "regular" tofu. The longer the pressing, the firmer and denser the tofu—soft, firm or extra-firm.
What to do with it: Silken tofu is delicate and custardlike, perfect for pureéing 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 will last 5 to 7 days after opening. Store in a loosely sealed container of water in the refrigerator, changing the water daily.