Every month, Diversivore launches two new thematic features. This month’s pantry/recipe feature is all about the amazing pastes, sauces, and foods made from soybeans. Keep coming back for updates and recipes related to this theme, or subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out on anything new.
Soy is one of the most important foods on the planet. This isn’t simply a matter of opinion; there are numbers (not to mention entire cuisines) to back that statement up. Soybeans are grown on a massive scale in countries all around the world, with Brazil and the USA leading the pack. Like corn, wheat, and rice, they’re traded internationally on commodities markets. In 2014, the combined world soybean output was 214 million metric tons; the US share of this alone was $38 billion. That’s billion, with a B. It’s clear that they’re economically important, but let’s not forget that they’re a food product, and one with a rather interesting nutritional profile at that. In their raw and unprepared state they’re toxic to humans, but once they’ve been cooked, they become an amazingly nutrient-dense super-food. In particular, they’re a very high source of protein, which made them indispensable for millenia in East Asia where red meat was rarely on the menu. But soy is also becoming one of the most controversial foods on Earth. Soybeans are definitely nutrient dense, but there has been some concern (bordering on hysteria if you’re to believe some rather dramatic internet sources) over some compounds found in soybeans and whether or not they have any connection to various human maladies. On the other hand, some soy components (sometimes even the same ones) have been touted for their cardioprotective and anti-cancer effects. But controversy doesn’t just surround what’s in the bean itself – simply producing soy has also become a touchy subject. Soy-based animal feeds have made large-scale environmentally impactful meat production possible at levels that would once have been utterly unimaginable. It’s also one of the most common GM crops on Earth. As of 2010, fully 93% of the soy grown in the USA (which produces over 1/3rd of the global soy output) was genetically modified, largely to facilitate the use of the herbicide Roundup.
So if soy is everywhere, not to mention increasingly contentious, why feature it? Well, there are two reasons really – first of all, I really enjoy examining a good controversy. But more importantly, soy has been one of the most important and imaginatively re-invented food products in Asia for literally thousands of years, and the variations that have been borne from this endless experimentation are amazingly useful, yet under-appreciated by many here in the West. In short, soy beans are the malleable, nutrient-rich building block for a vast array of staple ingredients, and these staples deserve to be used more often by cooks everywhere. Flavors ranging from mild tofu to spicy doubanjiang to the indispensible and variable soy sauces all await anyone wanting to explore the vast East Asian culinary scene.
At this point, I fear I might have left some readers feeling a little uneasy. Sure, soy is variable and delicious (I honestly can’t imagine what I’d do without soy sauces), but is it good for us? Is it good for the planet? I’m not going to simply toss out platitudes, but I will say this: understanding more about soy and the products made from it is essential if we want to make responsible decisions and enact changes that will benefit both ourselves and our planet. Organic and environmentally conscious soy products are becoming more common because consumers are paying attention and voicing their concerns. And, if I may put aside all of the controversy for a moment, increased global interest in Asian food coupled with a passion for quality and flavour have led to more and more products being made using traditional methods and more authentic ingredients. This is often translates into positive environmental changes, and it’s incredibly good news for home cooks, who can now find a wealth of incredible ingredients on store shelves. This month is all about helping you learn to navigate that delicious diversity.
So follow along as we explore soy products this month. I can promise some seriously delicious food, as well as some interesting food for thought. We’ll be looking at new Pantry Pages, as well as recipes from Korea, China, Japan and (hopefully!) more. I’ll be connecting this theme to Diversivore’s other March theme all about Chinese green vegetables.
If you’re looking to start exploring already, I whole-heartedly recommend trying this amazing Five-Spice Crispy Tofu with Seared Bok Choy, or this classic Mapo Tofu. You can also check out pretty much any Chinese or Japanese recipe on the site, as most will contain soy sauce or tamari.
Curious about a particular soy product? Have questions about a soy controversy? Let me know in the comments, or send an email to [email protected]