Top Health Tools
Top Health Tools

Top Reports
Top Reports
Top Articles
Top Articles

Top Reviews
Top Reviews

The Unhealthy Mass Marketing of Soy

Soy drink--popularly known as soy milk--is a lactose-free dairy substitute made from soybeans that have been soaked, ground, cooked and strained. Manufacturers are now aggressively marketing this imitation food with everything short of a soy mustache campaign, putting it in gable-top cartons and placing it right next to dairy products in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores. Sales of soy milks came to nearly $600 million in 2001 and are projected to reach $1 billion by 2005.1

Soy milk drinkers might be startled to learn that the Chinese did not traditionally value soy milk. Soy milk was nothing more than a step in the tofu-making process. The earliest reference to soy milk as a beverage appears in 1866,2 and by the 1920s and 1930s, soy milk was popular as an occasional drink served to the elderly and often mixed with shrimp or egg yolk.3-5 Credit for inventing a commercially feasible method to manufacture soy milk goes to Harry Miller, an American-born Seventh Day Adventist physician and missionary. Called the "Albert Schweitzer of China," he built fifteen hospitals there and developed the soy beverage not for Americans, but for the Chinese.6-8

Dr. Miller also found that soy milk was not traditional in Japan. In a 1959 article for Soybean Digest entitled "Why Japan needs Soy Milk," he described seven months spent as a surgeon and physician at the Tokyo Sanitarium and Hospital and how his idea of a soybean beverage and milk from the soybean for soups and cooking was something "altogether new." After setting up a pilot plant to make soy milk, soy cream, soy ice cream and a soy spread, he came up with the idea "of such additions to be made to the tofu plants."9

Despite Dr. Miller’s efforts, the Japanese found the flavor and odor of soymilk undesirable and soymilk consumption did not pick up until the late 1970s when the soy industry began advertising soy milk as a "healthful, pick-me-up ‘energy drink’ for stressed workers and business people."10

Dr. Miller and his son Willis established the first soy dairy in Shanghai in 1939, but never had a chance to find out how it would succeed. Within months Japan invaded China, bombed the factory and sent the Millers packing to Mt. Vernon, Ohio, where they began converting heathen Americans to the virtues of soy milk.10Later in life he continued his work in China, Taiwan, India.

Dr. Miller’s medical practice, by the way, included a speciality in goiter surgery,11 an interesting choice given current knowledge about soy’s damaging effects on the thyroid gland.

It is a surprising fact that the very first soy dairy was not even founded in Asia, but northwest of Paris in 1910 by Li Yu-Ying, a Chinese citizen, biologist and engineer.12

Soy Drink: Milking The Bean

The old-fashioned soy milk-making process begins with a long, relaxing soak. The softened beans are then ground on a stone grinder, using massive amounts of water. The mush goes into a cloth bag, is placed under a heavy rock, and pressed and squeezed until most of the liquid runs out. The soy paste is then boiled in fresh water. Large amounts of filthy scum rise to the surface and are carefully removed.13,14

The modern method is faster, cheaper--and retains the scum. It speeds up the presoaking phase with the use of an alkaline solution, skips the squeezing and skimming steps, uses common tap water, and cooks the soy paste in a pressure cooker. The speed comes at a cost: the high pH of the soaking solution followed by pressure cooking destroys key nutrients, including vitamins and the sulfur-containing amino acids. The process also decreases the quality of the amino acid lysine and may produce a toxin, lysinoalanine.15 Although levels of lysinoalanine in soy milk are low, valid safety concerns remain.

Taste, not nutrition, is what most concerns the soy industry. As Peter Golbitz, President of Soyatech in Bar Harbor, Maine, puts it, "The challenge for the soy industry has been identifying and inactivating the components primarily responsible for the undesirable beany flavor, aroma and aftertaste in soymilk."16 The guilty party is the enzyme lipoxygenase, which oxidizes the polyunsaturated fatty acids in soy, causing the "beaniness" and rancidity. The industry’s attempted solutions have included high heat, pressure cooking and replacement of the traditional presoaking with a fast blanch in an alkaline solution of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Major manufacturers have even "offed" the off flavors using a deodorizing process similar to that in oil refining, which involves passing cooked soymilk through a vacuum pan at extremely high temperatures in the presence of a strong vacuum.17

To cover up any "beaniness" that remains, processors bring out the sweeteners and flavorings. Almost all commercially sold soymilks contain barley malt, brown rice syrup, raw cane crystals or some other form of sugar. The higher the sugar, the higher the acceptability among consumers. Flavors such as "plain" or "original" are almost always sweetened, although perceived by many consumers as unsweetened. Even so, a panel of professional "sensory analysts" at the Arthur D. Little Company evaluated the taste, color, viscosity, balance, fullness, bitterness and aftertaste of all the leading soy beverages and found them wanting. The company helps the processed food industry "translate the voice of the consumer into product specifications."18 The panel ruled that soy milk "does not currently meet consumer standards for flavor quality and flavor consistency, and will not capture the mass market until vast improvements are made."

The worst problems were: the darker, dirty-looking color of some brands of soy milk (compared to the white of dairy milk); chalky mouth feel; musty or burnt protein odors; and, beany and bitter aftertastes. None of the soymilks evaluated came close to matching the flavor quality of dairy milk, though vanilla-flavored soymilks fared best. Although consumers perceive refrigerated soy products as fresher and better, these products did not score any higher than the shelf-stable versions in the taste tests.19-22

Eliminating the aftertaste in soy milk poses the biggest challenge. The undesirable sour, bitter and astringent characteristics come from oxidized phospholipids (rancid lecithin), oxidized fatty acids (rancid soy oil), the antinutrients called saponins and the soy estrogens known as isoflavones. The last are so bitter and astringent that they produce dry mouth.23,24 This has put the soy industry into a quandary. The only way it can make its soy milk please consumers is to remove some of the very toxins that it has assiduously promoted as cancer preventing and cholesterol lowering. The opportunity to profit from selling both the soy milk and bottles of isoflavone supplements (that can be swallowed rather than tasted) will surely prevail.


Most soymilks are also fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals inadequately represented in soybeans, and stabilized with emulsifiers. This has been true at least since 1931 when a Seventh Day Adventist company fortified soy milk with calcium.25

Even in health-food store foods, these added supplements are cheap, mass-produced products. The soy milk industry puts vitamin D2 in soymilk, even though the dairy industry quietly stopped adding this form of the vitamin years ago. Although any form of vitamin D helps people meet their RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances), D2 has been linked to hyperactivity, coronary heart disease and allergic reactions.26

Low fat--or "lite"--soymilks are made with soy protein isolate (SPI), not the full-fat soybean. To improve both color and texture, manufacturers work with a whole palette of additives. Several years ago, titanium oxide, a form of white paint, was popular. Those who did not shake the containers thoroughly often found watery soymilk with lumps of white glop at the bottom. The soy industry has now moved on to less palette-able, more palatable, solutions to the color-texture problem. Because soymilk made with SPI needs at least some oil to provide creaminess, canola oil--not soy oil--is often added. The soy industry knows that its own oil is not perceived as healthy.

Yogurts, Puddings and Cottage Cheeses

Soy-milk derived products such as soy puddings, ice creams, yogurts, cottage cheese and whipped "creams" are entering the mainstream, though they still earn poor reviews from taste testers. In 2003, Time magazine wrote, "The soy-based yogurts we tried . . . were chalky, gritty and sour, with a chemical aftertaste. You might go for them, but a typical reaction from one of our testers was ‘awful.’"27

Most soy milk products include a thickener derived from red seaweed known as carrageenan. This water-soluble polymer or gum often serves as a fat substitute. For years it was assumed to be safe, but recently researchers discovered that it caused ulcerations and malignancies in the gastrointestinal tract of animals.28 (Carrageenan is also added to all ready-mix baby formulas.)

Cheddar And Jack:
Who Soy-led My Cheese?

Soy milk is the starting point for the manufacturer of soy cheese for pizzas, Mexican foods and pasta. Soy cheeses can be artificially flavored to resemble American cheese, mozzarella, cheddar, Monterey jack and Parmesan, and they’re increasingly used by fast food operations like Pizza Hut.

Most soy cheeses are made with some casein, a cow’s milk protein that helps make the ersatz product taste more like "real" cheese. Without it, soy cheeses that are heated will soften, but not melt and stretch. The taste and texture of totally vegan soy cheese products incur the wrath of both professional reviewers and members of the public, who have described these imitation cheeses as "barely edible," "yukky," "disgusting," "plastic," "rubbery," and "smelling like old, stinky socks."29 Even the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an organization that says it wants to recommend vegan cheeses to its constituents, criticized the soy versions of Swiss, cheddar and jack cheese for being "barely distinguishable from each other" and said "none came close to even a decent store brand of cheddar, never mind havarti or Jarlsberg."30

Though often promoted as "healthful" with the phrase "no cholesterol," many brands of soy cheeses contain dangerous partially hydrogenated fats. The brands that taste the best often contain high levels. The main ingredient of Tofutti brand soy cheese, for example, is water, followed by partially hydrogenated soybean oil. The Citizens for Science in the Public Interest found that "each 2/3 ounce slice contains 2 grams of artery-clogging trans fats."31

Recently Kraft Foods patented a method for preparing "natural" cheeses that contain 30 percent soy protein. The new method uses enzymes to turn soybeans into soy protein hydrolyzates, basic amino acids that food chemists can fully integrate into the structure of casein. This complex is then added to milk, which is clotted with rennet to form curds and whey. Conventional cheese-making techniques turn the curds into cheese. Without the initial enzyme treatment, the soy would interfere with milk clotting and prevent the formation of a proper curd.32 Regarding the possible dangers of hydrolyzates, the company is mum.

Soy Ice Cream: The Big Freeze

Soy ice creams have faired better than their casein cousins. Indeed, Peter Golbitz of Soyatech credits Tofutti, the first commercially successful soy ice cream substitute, as having "proved to Americans that a soybean-based food product could actually taste good."33 Calling the product "tofu-based," however, might be a bit of a stretcher. Indeed, in the 1980s, muckraking reporters exposed the product as containing no tofu whatsoever. Today the first three ingredients in the different flavors of Tofutti are water, white sugar and corn oil, followed by soy protein isolate and sometimes tofu. Brown sugar and high fructose corn syrup make up most of the rest. The ingredient list for the flavor "Better Pecan" is "water, sugar, corn oil, soy proteins, tofu, pecans, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, mod food starch, veg mono and diglycerides, cocoa butter, guar, locust bean and cellulose gums, carrageenan, nat flavors, salt, caramel and annatto colors." No wonder the company prints its ingredients with abbreviated wording in tiny, hard-to-read type around the top edge of the carton. Newer brands of soy ice cream such as Soy Dream and Imagine contain fewer ingredients, consisting mainly of water, some form of sugar, soy and more sugar.

Not In Nature

Pleasing consumers--and milking more of their dollars -- remains the challenge as the soybean industry seeks effective and economical ways to improve the taste, color and texture of milk-like and cheese-like soybean products. Plain, "natural" and traditional Asian products just won’t pass muster in the marketplace, and there is nothing natural about what will actually sell. As Peter Golbitz of Soyatech put it, "Soymilk is one of those unique food products that doesn’t exist naturally in nature, such as a fruit, vegetable or cow’s milk--it is, and always has been, a processed food. Since there are many options available to processors today in regards to process type, variety of soybean, type of sugar and an array of flavoring and masking additives, product formulators need real guidelines to follow to create winning products."34

About the Author
Kaayla Daniel is the author of The Whole Soy Story (NewTrends, Spring 2004). Visit her website at


1. Soymilk: opportunity for the dairy industry? Posted 12/26/2001.

2. Shurtleff, William, Chronology of soymilk worldwide: Part I, 220AD to 1949, Special Exhibit, Museum of Soy, 2001,

3. Guy RA. The diets of nursing mothers and young children in Peiping. Chinese Med J, 1936, 50, 434-442.

4. Guy RA, Yeh KS. Roasted soybean in infant feeding. Chinese Med J, 1938, 54, 2, 101-110.

5. Guy RA, Yeh KS. Soybean "milk" as a food for young infants. Chinese Med J, 1938, 54, 1, 1-30.

6. Shurtleff.

7. Miller HW, Wen CJ. Experimental nutrition studies of soymilk in human nutrition, Chinese Medl J, 1936, 50, 4, 450-459.

8. Moore, Raymond S. China Doctor: The Life Story of Harry Willis Miller (Harper,1961). Summarized by William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi in Bibliography and Sourcebook on the Seventh .Day Adventists, 1866-1992. (Lafayette, CA, Soyfoods Center). Reference #444.

9. Miller, Harry W. Why Japan needs soy milk. Soybean Digest, April 1959, 16-17. Summarized by Shurtleff, Aoyagi in Bibliography and Sourcebook on Seventh Day Adventists, 1866-1992, Reference #419.

10. Wilson, Lester A. Soy Foods. In Practical Handbook of Soybean Processing and Utilization. David R. Erickson, ed. (Champaign, IL, AOCS Press, 1995), 432.

11. Kahn EJ Jr. Staffs of Life Part V: The Future of the Planet. The New Yorker, March 11, 1985, 65.

12. Shurtleff.

13. Shurtleff.

14. Wallace GM. Studies on the processing and properties of soymilk. J Sci Food Agric, 1971, 22, 526-535.

15. Liu, KeShun. Soybeans: Chemistry, Technology and Utilization (Gaithersburg, MD, Aspen, 1999) 151-153.

16. Golbitz, Peter. Traditional soyfoods: processing and products, J Nutr, 1995, 125, 570S-572S.

17. Liu, 147.

18. Golbitz.


20. Study by Arthur D. Little & Soyatech shows soymilk falls short of taste standards. BUSINESS WIRE via NewsEdge Corporation, 8/21/01.

21. Producers struggle to make soymilk palatable. Boston Globe via NewsEdge Corporation: August 25.

22. Benchmarking soymilk flavor: US. market 2001: new soymilk flavor study shows wide range in quality. Soyatech Press Release. 6/18/2001.

23. Liu, 161-162.

24. Huang AS, Hsieh OAL, Chang SS. Characterization of the nonvolatile minor constituents responsible for the objectionable taste of defatted soybean flour. J Food Sci, 47, 19.

25. Shurtleff, Aoyagi. Product name: Madison Soy Milk. In Bibliography and Sourcebook on Seventh Day Adventists, 1866-1992. (Lafayette, CA, Soyfoods Center). Reference # 102.

26. Fallon, Sally’ Enig, Mary. Nourishing Traditions. Second Edition. (Washington, DC, New Trends, 1999) 39.

27. Song, Sora. Beyond Brown Cow: Specialty yogurts are multiplying. But do they taste any better? Time, March 31, 2003, 191.

28. Thickener used in soymilk may cause health problems, study says. Environmental News Network, Sun Valley ID, via. NewsEdge Corporation, Posted 10, 22, 2001.

29. Words used to describe the taste of foods prepared from vegan recipe books in book reviews posted by readers on

30. Hurley, Jayne. Liebman, Bonnie. The udder alternative: the soy dairy case, Nutrition Action Newsletter, Nov 2002, 14.

31. Hurley, Liebman.

32. Kraft develops method for preparing cheese with high levels of soy protein. Food Ingredient News, October 2002.

33. Golbitz, Peter. Traditional soyfoods: processing and products. J Nutr, 1004, 125, 570S-572S.

34. Soyatech. New soymilk flavor study shows wide range in quality. 6/18/2001.

  • More articles on Soy

Reference Source
December 1, 2006

STAY CONNECTEDNewsletter | RSS | Twitter | YouTube |
This site is owned and operated by 1999-2018. All Rights Reserved. All content on this site may be copied, without permission, whether reproduced digitally or in print, provided copyright, reference and source information are intact and use is strictly for not-for-profit purposes. Please review our copyright policy for full details.
volunteerDonateWrite For Us
Stay Connected With Our Newsletter