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From the Field to the Fork

Soya healthy food for Vegetarians and VegansThe Story of Soya  

What is it? Soya beans are a pulse or legume – peas, beans, lentils – and they are used to make many different types of foods.

Where does it come from? Soya has traditionally been grown in North and South America and Asia. However, there are now climate-suitable varieties, which means that soya beans can be grown in colder places such as Europe and the UK. Asda, the supermarket chain, has recently commissioned the first commercial soya crops in the UK.

What is it used for? Soya is used for human food and to feed animals bred for meat. Most of the world’s soya (over 80 per cent) is used to feed animals, but it is generally agreed that there would be less damage done to the environment if soya and other veggie foods were fed directly to humans. It would also help the problem of world hunger because animals eat far more food than we get back from them! For more information click here.

How long has soya been around? Soya products were eaten throughout the Far East long before we had written records – thousands of years!

What does soya contain? Protein, lots of it at 38–45% - plus lots more nutritional goodies: see below!

Is soya good for us? Absolutely - in fact, it's a bit of a wonderfood! Soya is very good as part of a balanced diet because it is rich in protein (all the amino acids), iron, fibre, B vitamins, folate, is cholesterol-free and can also help to lower cholesterol. There are some stories circultating that soya can be harmful but these do no stand up to scientific investigation. 

What's the best way to eat soya? Soya beans are used to make  soya milk, soya yoghurt, tofu, tempeh and other healthy, nutritious foods. These foods are much lower in fat and cholesterol than dairy and meat products as well as being a good source of protein and iron. Like most foods, the less you mess about with the basic ingredient, the better! (But the occasional TVP veggie sausage or burger is fine and still healthier than meat sausages or burgers.)

However, highly processed soya and soya oil is used in most commercial foods as padders and is not so good for you. The oil is used in crisps, confectionery, deep-fried take-aways, ready meals, ice-creams, mayonnaise and margarine – and cheap, low-quality soya by-products are used to pad out lots of meat-based foods such as pies and pasties and ready meals. Many meat-eaters probably eat more processed soya than vegetarians and vegans!

How is soya processed? Soya beans come in two varieties: vegetable and field

Vegetable Soya It cooks more easily, has a mild nutty flavour, better texture, is larger in size, higher in protein and lower in oil than the field variety. Therefore vegetable soya beans are used to make foods such as tofu, tempeh, soya milk and other alternatives to dairy foods.

Field Soya It is used to make oil and other by-products. Field soya is tougher and because the pods don’t break up so easily, it makes them more suitable for mechanical combine harvesting. The oil is extracted from the beans and what is left is called soya meal. The soya meal is low in fat and high in protein and is used mostly for animal feed. A small amount is also used for human consumption, eg TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein).

The soybeans are cracked, rolled into flakes and the oil is extracted. The oil is then refined and blended for different uses. Soya bean oil is sold as vegetable oil or added to a wide variety of processed foods. The remaining soybean husks are used mainly as animal feed – or used to make TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein). TVP is very low in fat but high in protein because it is made from de-fatted soya beans. It is sold in the form of veggie mince or in chunks and used as a meat replacer in casseroles, chilli, curry and so forth.

Vegetable Soya Bean Products

Edamame These are green, baby soya beans which are eaten hot with soya sauce or salt or added to salads and other dishes. They are a very healthy food and can be bought frozen from large supermarkets, health stores and Chinese/Japanese stores

Soya Milk Used instead of cow or goat milk. The beans are cooked and crushed to extract the milk.


Miso A savoury paste made from fermented soya beans which is used as a soup stock or in sauces. There are different types of miso, ranging from pale and delicately flavoured to darker and more ‘meaty’ in taste. Miso  was invented in China and Japan but is increasingly used in the West as oriental food becomes more popular. 

Soya Flour It is used for various things, often as a binder to replace eggs in vegan cakes and pancakes. It is also added to processed foods as a padder. The beans are crushed and ground to make the flour.

Soya Sauce  Used to flavour many dishes, not just Chinese or other oriental foods. It is made from fermented beans, rather like the process to make miso.

Tempeh  A type of savoury bean cake made from fermented soya beans. Tempeh originated in oriental countries such as Indonesia but has grown in popularity in the West over the past 30 years.  It is usually fried in chunks and used in curries and stews, or else cut into strips as a bacon substitute. It is sold in frozen blocks while the strips/rashers are stored in chill cabinets. Try a good health food shop for both. 

Tofu  Also known as bean curd. Uncooked, dried soya beans are ground and made into curd or a kind of cheese using calcium sulphate. There are different types of tofu, ranging from firm to soft and creamy (silken tofu). Check out the cool tofu recipes on these sites! Just tick the 'tofu' box... www.vegetarianrecipeclub.org.uk/recipes/searchresults.php


TVP  the husk or meal made from field beans that have had the oil removed (defatted soya). This is then formed into mince or chunks and used as a meat replacement in vegetarian sausages, burgers, mince and other similar foods. TVP is available dried or frozen - all major supermarkets sell it now. 

Yoghurt made from soya milk and a culture in the same way as dairy yoghurt. Available in plain and fruit flavours. Good  brands are Alpro, Provamel and Sojasun.

Stir-fries, Curries, Casseroles...

Soak firm tofu in a savoury marinade (soaking sauce) to give it flavour before cooking. Chop into cubes and fry it lightly, then add it to the rest of the meal a few minutes before serving. Check out our easy Thai Curry recipe here! And of course, click on the 'tofu' link http://www.vegetarianrecipeclub.org.uk/recipes/searchresults.php


Scrambled tofu

Crumble firm tofu it and cook with spices and spring onion as a substitute for scrambled eggs. It's very good!  http://www.vegetarianrecipeclub.org.uk/recipes/display.php?pid=104 


Desserts such as mousses, cakes or cheesecakes are often made with silken tofu.  Here is a simple, quick chocolate mousse recipe http://www.vegetarianrecipeclub.org.uk/recipes/display.php?pid=118-

And here is a fantastic dairy-free cheesecake recipe  http://www.vegetarianrecipeclub.org.uk/recipes/display.php?pid=220

Top Tip Try blending silken tofu with fresh fruit and juice as a protein-rich and thick smoothie. Try banana or berries plus a bit of sweetener whizzed up with half a pack of silken tofu - yum! Thin it down with a dribble of soya milk or fruit juice if you want.


Blend tofu and mix with vegetables and flavourings then add to a pastry case and bake as usual. You can use most types of tofu, but silken tofu is the nicest as it is very smooth when blended. Here's a really nice recipe with lots of variations... http://www.vegetarianrecipeclub.org.uk/recipes/display.php?pid=209