Soy milk

Last updated
Soy milk
Soy milk (2).jpg
Alternative namesSoya milk
Place of originChina
Inventeda. 1365 [1] [2]
Food energy
(per 100  g serving)
33  kcal  (138 kJ)
Nutritional value
(per 100  g serving)
Protein 2.86  g
Fat 1.61  g
Carbohydrate 1.74  g
Glycemic index 34 (low)
Soy milk
Chinese 豆奶
Literary Chinese name
Chinese 豆乳
Literal meaning bean milk
Archaic Chinese name
Chinese 菽乳
Literal meaning bean milk

Soy milk (simplified Chinese: 豆浆; traditional Chinese: 豆漿) also known as soya milk or soymilk, is a plant-based drink produced by soaking and grinding soybeans, boiling the mixture, and filtering out remaining particulates. It is a stable emulsion of oil, water, and protein. Its original form is an intermediate product of the manufacture of tofu. Originating in China, it became a common beverage in Europe and North America in the latter half of the 20th century, especially as production techniques were developed to give it a taste and consistency more closely resembling that of dairy milk. Soy milk may be used as a substitute for dairy milk by individuals who are vegan or lactose intolerant.


Soy milk is also used in making imitation dairy products such as soy yogurt, soy cream, soy kefir and soy-based cheese analogues. [3] [4] It is also used as an ingredient for making milkshakes, pancakes, smoothies, bread, mayonnaise, and baked goods. [5]


In China, the usual term 豆浆 dòujiāng (lit. "bean broth") is used for the traditional watery and beany beverage produced as an intermediate product in the production of tofu, whereas store-bought products designed to imitate the flavor and consistency of dairy milk, may contain a mixture of dairy and soy, are more often known as 豆奶 dòunǎi ("bean milk").[ citation needed ]

In other countries, there are sometimes legal impediments to the equivalents of the name "soy milk". In such jurisdictions, the manufacturers of plant milks typically label their products the equivalent of "soy beverage" or "soy drink."[ citation needed ]

Naming in the EU

In the European Union, "milk" by law refers exclusively to "the normal mammary secretion obtained from one or more milkings without either addition thereto or extraction therefrom". [6] Only cow's milk is allowed to be named "milk" on packaging, and any other milks must state the name of the respective animal: for example, "goat milk" or "sheep milk". The naming of soy drink as soy milk became subject of a 2017 court case before the Court of Justice of the European Union after a German consumer protection group filed an unfair competition complaint about a company describing its soya and tofu products as 'milk' or 'cheese'. The Court of Justice ruled that such designations cannot be legally used for purely plant-based products and that additions indicating the plant origin of the products (soy milk) does not influence that prohibition. [7]


The earliest record of soybean milk is on a stone slab of the Eastern Han Dynasty unearthed in China, on which is engraved the situation of making soy milk in ancient kitchens.

A tofu broth (doufujiang) c.1365 was used during the Mongol Yuan. [1] [2] As doujiang, this drink remains a common watery form of soy milk in China,usually prepared from fresh soybeans.The compendium of Materia Medica, which was completed in 1578 ad, also has an evaluation of soymilk. Its use increased during the Qing dynasty, apparently due to the discovery that gently heating doujiang for at least 90 minutes hydrolyzed its raffinose and stachyose, oligosaccharides which can cause flatulence and digestive pain among lactose-intolerant adults. [8] [9] By the 18th century, it was common enough that street vendors were hawking it; [10] in the 19th, it was also common to take a cup to tofu shops to get hot, fresh doujiang for breakfast. It was already often paired with youtiao, which was dipped into it. [11] The process was industrialized in early Republican China. By 1929, two Shanghai factories were selling over 1000 bottles a day and another in Beijing was almost as productive itself. [12] Following disruption from the Second World War and the Chinese Civil War, soy milk began to be marketed in soft drink-like fashion in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan in the 1950s. [13]

Consumption of soy milk had spread to England by the 14th century. [14] Soymilk was mentioned in various European letters from China beginning in the 17th century. [15] "Soy milk" entered the English language (as "soy-bean milk") in an 1897 USDA report. [16] [17] Li Yuying established Caséo-Sojaïne, the first soy milk "dairy", in Colombes, France, in 1910; he received the first British and American patents for soy milk manufacturing in 1912 and 1913. [12] J.A. Chard began production of "Soy Lac" in New York City, United States, in 1917. [12] Harry W. Miller—an American businessman forced to relocate his factory from Shanghai owing to World War II—was similarly compelled by the USDA and the US dairy industry to use the term "Soya Lac" rather than "soy milk". [12] John Harvey Kellogg had been working with what he called "soymilk" at his Battle Creek Sanitarium since 1930, but was similarly compelled to market his acidophilus-enriched beverage as "Soygal" when it began commercial production in 1942. [18]

A string of 40 court cases against Rich Products between 1949 and 1974 finally established that non-dairy "milks" and imitation dairy products were "a new and distinct food", rather than inferior and illegal knock-offs. [12] Cornell researchers established the enzyme lipoxygenase as responsible for the "beany" flavor of soy milk made in 1966; the same research established a process for reducing or eliminating the bean flavor from commercial products. [19] [20] With Tetra Pak cartons extending its shelf-life, Hong Kong-based Vitasoy reintroduced soy milk to the US market in 1980 and brought it to 20 other countries within a few years. [19] Alpro similarly began production in Belgium in 1980, quickly becoming Europe's leading producer. [19] New production technology and techniques began to permit soy beverages with an appreciably more milk-like flavor and consistency in the mid-1980s. [21]


Soy milk is made from whole soybeans or full-fat soy flour. [22] The dry beans are soaked in water for a minimum of three hours up to overnight depending on the temperature of the water. The rehydrated beans then undergo wet grinding with enough added water to give the desired solids content to the final product which has a protein content of 1–4%, depending on the method of production. [22] The ratio of water to beans on a weight basis is 10:1 for traditional soy milk. [22] The resulting slurry or purée is brought to a boil in order to improve its taste properties, by heat inactivating soybean trypsin inhibitor, improve its flavor, and to sterilize the product. [22] [5] Heating at or near the boiling point is continued for a period of time, 15–20 minutes, followed by the removal of insoluble residues (soy pulp fiber) by straining/filtration. [22]

Processing requires the use of an anti-foaming agent or natural defoamer during the boiling step. Bringing filtered soy milk to a boil avoids the problem of foaming. It is generally opaque, white or off-white in color, and approximately the same consistency as cow's milk. [22] Quality attributes during preparation include germination time for the beans used, acidity, total protein and carbohydrates, phytic acid content, and viscosity. [22] Raw soy milk may be sweetened, flavored, and fortified with micronutrients. [5] Once fully processed, soy milk products are typically sold in plastic bottles or plastic-coated cartons, such as tetrapaks. [5]


With soybean production increasing worldwide during the early 21st century, [3] and consumer interest in plant milks growing from demand in Asia, Europe, and the United States, [3] [4] [5] soy milk became the second-most consumed plant milk (after almond milk) by 2019. [23] [24] Soy milk sales declined in the United States during 2018–19, [4] [24] mainly due to the rising popularity of almond milk and loss of market share to the successful introduction of oat milk. [25]

According to market research in 2019, the worldwide market for soy milk was growing at an annual rate of 6%, and was forecast to reach $11 billion in total commerce by 2025. [26] Growth in consumption was due mainly to expanding the flavors of sweetened soy milks and uses in desserts, whereas unsweetened soy milk was being used particularly in Asia-Pacific countries as an ingredient in snacks and various prepared foods. [26]



A cup (243 ml) serving of a generic unsweetened commercial nutrient-fortified brand of soy milk provides 80 calories from 4 g of carbohydrates (including 1 g of sugar), 4 g of fat and 7 g of protein. [27] This processed soy milk contains appreciable levels of vitamin A, B vitamins, and vitamin D in a range of 10 to 45% of the Daily Value, with calcium and magnesium also in significant content. [27]

It has a glycemic index of 34±4. [28] For protein quality, one study gave soya milk a Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) of 78% for infants, 99% for young children, and 117% for older children, adolescents, and adults, with the limiting amino acid for those groups being leucine, lysine, and valine respectively. [29] A DIAAS of 100 or more is considered to be an excellent/high protein quality source. [30]

Nutritional content of fortified cow, soy, almond and oat milks
Nutrient value
per 250 mL cup
Cow milk
(whole) [31]
Soy milk
(unsweetened) [32]
Almond milk
(unsweetened) [33]
Oat milk
(unsweetened) [34]
Energy, kJ (kcal)620 (149)330 (80)160 (39)500 (120)
Protein (g)7.696.951.553
Fat (g)7.933.912.885
Saturated fat (g)4.550.500.5
Carbohydrate (g)11.714.231.5216
Fiber (g)01.202
Sugars (g)12.32107
Calcium (mg) [lower-alpha 1] 276301516350
Potassium (mg)322292176390
Sodium (mg)10590186140
Vitamin B12 (µg)1.102.7001.2
Vitamin A (IU) [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 2] 395503372267
Vitamin D (IU) [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 3] 124119110144
Cholesterol (mg)24000
  1. 1 2 3 Commonly added to plant milks, which do not naturally contain significant levels of the nutrient. Added to all three plant milks presented in this table.
  2. Vitamin A fortification is only required for skimmed milk in the US.
  3. Vitamin D fortification for dairy milk is mandatory in the US.


Taiwan breakfast with fresh soymilk flickr user goosmurf.jpg
A youtiao with a bowl of doujiang
Traditional Chinese 豆漿
Simplified Chinese 豆浆
Literal meaning soybean broth
Historic name
Traditional Chinese 豆腐 漿
Simplified Chinese 豆腐
Literal meaning tofu broth

Manufactured, sweetened soy milk has an oatmeal-like, nutty flavor. [35] In acidic hot drinks, such as coffee, curdling may occur, requiring some manufacturers to add acidity regulators. [36]

Phytic acid

Soybeans, and soy milk in particular, contain phytic acid, which may act as a chelating agent and inhibit mineral absorption, especially for diets already low in minerals. [37] [38]


Soy milk soup with salt and vinegar, along with vegetables and wontons. Soy milk soup with wonton cc flickr user jetalone 2.jpg
Soy milk soup with salt and vinegar, along with vegetables and wontons.

Soy milk is a common beverage in East Asian cuisines. In Chinese cuisine, "sweet" soy milk is made by adding cane sugar or simple syrup. "Salty" or "savory" soy milk is often combined with chopped pickled mustard greens, dried shrimp, youtiao croutons, chopped spring onions, cilantro, pork floss, and/or shallots, along with vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and/or chili oil. Both are traditional breakfast foods, served hot or cold depending on the season or personal preference. At breakfast, it is often accompanied by starchy carbohydrate-rich foods like mantou (a thick, fluffy kind of roll or bun), youtiao (deep-fried dough sticks), and shaobing (sesame flatbread). Japanese cuisine uses soy milk to make yuba and as an occasional base for nabemono. In Korean cuisine, soy milk is used as the broth for making kongguksu, a cold noodle soup eaten mostly in summer. In many countries, soy milk is used in vegan and vegetarian food products and as a replacement for cow's milk in many recipes. [23] [3] Soy milk is also used in making imitation dairy products such as soy yogurt, soy cream, soy kefir and soy-based cheese analogues. [3] [4] It is also used as an ingredient for making milkshakes, pancakes, smoothies, bread, mayonnaise, and baked goods. [5]

Ecological impact

Mean greenhouse gas emissions for one glass (200g) of different milks [23]
Milk TypesGreenhouse gas emissions (kg CO2-Ceq per 200g)
Cow milk
Rice milk
Soy milk
Oat milk
Almond milk

Using soybeans to make milk instead of raising cows is ecologically advantageous. [39] Cows require much more energy in order to produce milk, since the farmer must feed the animal, which can consume up to 24 kilograms (53 lb) of food in dry matter basis and 90 to 180 litres (24 to 48 US gal) of water a day, producing an average of 40 kilograms (88 lb) of milk a day. Legumes, including the soybean plant, also replenish the nitrogen content of the soil in which they are grown.

The cultivation of soybeans in South America is a cause of deforestation [40] (specifically in the Amazon rainforest) and a range of other large-scale environmental harm. [41] However, the majority of soybean cultivation worldwide, especially in South America where cattle farming is widespread, is intended for livestock fodder rather than soy milk production. [40]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Vegetarian cuisine is based on food that meets vegetarian standards by not including meat and animal tissue products. Lacto-ovo vegetarianism includes eggs and dairy products. Lacto vegetarianism includes dairy products but not eggs, and ovo vegetarianism encompasses eggs but not dairy products. The strictest form of vegetarianism is veganism, which excludes all animal products, including dairy, honey, and some refined sugars if filtered and whitened with bone char. There are also partial vegetarians, such as pescetarians who eat fish but avoid other types of meat.

Soybean legume grown for its edible bean with many uses

The soybean, soy bean, or soya bean is a species of legume native to East Asia, widely grown for its edible bean, which has numerous uses.

Tempeh Soy product from Indonesia, used as protein source

Tempeh or tempe, Javanese pronunciation: [tempe]) is a traditional Javanese food made from fermented soybeans. It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. A fungus, Rhizopus oligosporus, is used in the fermentation process and is also known as tempeh starter.

Rice milk

Rice milk is a plant milk made from rice. Commercial rice milk is typically manufactured using brown rice and brown rice syrup, and may be sweetened using sugar or sugar substitutes, and flavored by common ingredients, such as vanilla. It is commonly fortified with protein and micronutrients, such as vitamin B12, calcium, iron, or vitamin D.

Almond milk plant milk manufactured from almonds

Almond milk is a plant milk manufactured from almonds with a creamy texture and nutty flavor, although some types or brands are flavored in imitation of dairy milk. It does not contain cholesterol, saturated fat or lactose, and is often consumed by those who are lactose-intolerant and others, such as vegans, who avoid dairy products. Commercial almond milk comes in sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla and chocolate flavors, and is usually fortified with micronutrients. It can also be made at home using a blender, almonds and water.

Tofu skin

Tofu skin, beancurd skin, beancurd sheet, or beancurd robes is a food product made from soybeans. During the boiling of soy milk, in an open shallow pan, a film or skin forms on the liquid surface. The films are collected and dried into yellowish sheets known as tofu skin. Since tofu skin is not produced using a coagulant, it is not technically a proper tofu; however, it does have similar texture and flavor to some tofu products.

Plant milk a milk-like drink made from plant-based ingredients

Plant milk is a plant juice that resembles the color of milk and refers to manufactured, nondairy beverages made from a water-based plant extract for flavoring and aroma. Plant milks are vegan beverages consumed as plant-based alternatives to dairy milk, and often provide a creamy mouthfeel. For commerce, plant-based liquids are typically packaged in containers similar and competitive to those used for dairy milk, but cannot be labeled as "milk" within the European Union. In 2018, among the roughly 20 plants used to manufacture plant milk, almond, soy, and coconut were the highest-selling plant milks worldwide. The global plant milk market was estimated at US$16 billion in 2018.

Fermented bean curd Chinese condiment

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Milk substitute

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Silk (brand)

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Okara (food)

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Oat milk

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Soy protein

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Soy yogurt yogurt prepared with soy milk

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Tofu Soy-based food used as a protein source

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Plamil Foods

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Vegan cheese Cheese-like substance made without animal products

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