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Prairie Fare: Soy Foods Offer Variety and Nutrition

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
Are you familiar with edamame, natto or tempeh?

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“My daughter just loves edamame for snacks. She eats it like candy!” the mother of a preschooler noted as I stood in line with a group of parents.

I was happy to hear that kids were excited about eating a fairly novel snack. Another name for edamame is green vegetable soybeans. Harvested at about 80 percent maturity, these green soybeans are larger and sweeter than traditional soybeans.

“Where do you buy edamame and how do you fix it?” another interested mom asked.

“I buy it in the freezer section of the grocery store. I just boil the pods in some lightly salted water, and then you squeeze the soybeans out of the pods to enjoy,” she said.

My ears always perk up when I hear about people trying less-familiar foods.

Are you familiar with edamame, natto or tempeh? These soy foods traditionally have been used in Asian cuisine. Sometimes you can find these specialty products in the international cuisine section of grocery stores or in specialty markets.

Natto is a fermented soybean product and is used as a topping for rice or soup. Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that has a smoky or nutlike flavor. It can be marinated, grilled and added to chili or casseroles.

Have you tasted soybean oil, soy sauce, soy nuts, tofu or meat extenders made with soy protein? Maybe you know of a child who was fed soy infant formula. Mostly likely, you have seen or tasted these soy products.

As you can see, soybeans are widely used in our food supply, as well as in worldwide cuisine. Soy foods are a good source of protein, and they contain vitamins, such as folate, and minerals such as potassium. Some soy products are good sources of fiber. Read the Nutrition Facts labels on soy products to learn more.

Soy foods often are used in specialized diets. Maybe someone you know uses soy flour because the person cannot consume gluten (the protein in wheat). Others may consume soy-based beverages because of issues with lactose (the sugar naturally in milk) or casein (milk protein). Vegetarians often incorporate soy products in their diet as sources of protein.

Researchers have linked the consumption of soy foods to health benefits, including a potential role in reducing our risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. Research continues in all of these areas, so stay tuned. As always, before making major changes in your diet, visit with a health-care provider.

Some soy-based foods can carry a heart health claim approved by the Food and Drug Administration. To carry the health claim, the food has to contain at least 6.25 grams of soy protein, have less than 3 grams of fat, less than 1 gram of saturated fat and less than 20 milligrams of cholesterol.

If the food qualifies for the health claim, you might see this statement on the package: “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that includes 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of (name of the food) provides (number) grams of soy protein.”

However, we have a couple of considerations when consuming soy foods. Some people are allergic to soy foods. If soy is present in a product, the product must contain an allergen statement (“contains soy”) after the ingredient statement. If you are allergic to soy, you need to pay close attention to the ingredients in foods.

Soybeans cannot be eaten raw. Heating improves our ability to digest soy protein because it inactivates “trypsin inhibitor,” a natural component in soy that reduces the availability of a digestive enzyme.

The featured recipe with this column includes tofu, which is available in many grocery stores. Tofu has a cheeselike consistency and acts like a sponge in absorbing the flavors of the other ingredients.

You can find tofu in water-packed or silken forms. Water-packed tofu is fairly “sturdy,” so it can be cut up and grilled, stir-fried or used in other dishes where you would like it to retain its form.

Be sure to squeeze the water from the tofu before you prepare it. To press out the water, place the tofu on a plate and place a clean plate on top of the tofu. Add weight, such as cans of vegetables, on top of the plate and wait for about 20 minutes. Discard the water after that.

Silken tofu, which is called for in this recipe, has a custardlike consistency and works well in soups and creamy foods such as cheesecake.

Tofu is a perishable food due to its high protein and moisture content, so keep it refrigerated. Rinse and cover leftover tofu with water and use it within a week. You also can freeze tofu for about a month.

This colorful soup recipe courtesy of the United Soybean Board is rich in fiber and vitamins. Enjoy it with some freshly baked whole-wheat bread for dinner on a cool autumn day.

Creamy Pumpkin Curry Soup

1 Tbsp. soybean oil

1 small onion, diced

1 (16-ounce) package silken tofu, drained

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

1 medium apple, peeled, cored and sliced

2 c. low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

1 tsp. curry powder (or to taste)

3/4 tsp. ground black pepper

3/4 tsp. salt

1/4 c. toasted pumpkin seed (optional)

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook for two to three minutes until soft. Place onion, tofu, pumpkin, apple, broth, curry powder, pepper and salt in a blender. Puree for one minute until smooth. Place the mixture in the saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soup begins to gently simmer. Do not boil. Ladle into bowls, and top with pumpkin seeds if desired.

Makes eight servings. Each 1-cup serving has 90 calories, 3.5 grams (g) of fat, 5 g of protein (including 4 g of soy protein) and 11 g of carbohydrate.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Oct. 13, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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