Archive for the ‘Vegan Larder’ Category

A history of soy

The soy/soya bean is one of the most utilised and versatile foods available on the Earth. It’s arguably one of the most important foodstuffs in the vegan diet too, and few others can boast such a rich and interesting history. It has been hailed as a superfood, and also shunned as being toxic. Although I can’t think of any other food which has been made into a car…

The soya bean is most commonly associated with Eastern Asian food. Countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand are often viewed as the main consumers of soya beans, and indeed the earliest documented usage of soya beans is in Chinese food and medicine. It was also a key industrial tool, as fields were often cultivated using soya bean crops prior to planting other crops, due to the root structure of soya. Soya beans spread to other countries around Eastern Asia, and there is evidence of use of soy milk and tofu dating back to the first couple of centuries AD.

George Washington Carver

Soya beans first ventured into the US in 1765 with Samuel Bowen. Having visited China, Bowen began growing soya on US soil. Two thousand years after China, America’s George Washington Carver discovered the valuable protein and oil content of soya, and its benefits in crop production. William Morse then founded the American Soybean Association, an organisation that still exists today. He poured a lot of effort into studying soy, with the hope of America achieving the position of the dominant soy growing country of the world (which it has achieved, now growing over 80 million tonnes of the stuff per year).

However, it was Henry Ford who revolutionised the use of the soya bean. Spending $1,250,000 on research in the early 1930s, Ford recognised soy’s versatility. His research resulted in Ford cars using soya in its paint, plastics, and shock absorbers at one point, resulting in around 60 pounds of soy going into each car that Ford created by 1935. He even created the first (and quite possibly only) Soybean Car – made almost entirely out of plastics derived from soya. He also developed products such as soy milk, soy whipping cream, and soy ice cream (which leaves me wondering why, if this happened in the 1930s/40s, is it so hard to get hold of decent soy ice cream?)

The soybean car. And I thought tofu was pretty amazing.

Anyway, nowadays the soya bean is used in a huge variety of foods. It has had significant issues with GM production, although regulations are in the process of becoming. Fifteen years ago only 8% of all soybeans used had been genetically modified, whereas last year this number was around 93%. Many companies which produce soy for human consumption are now going out of their way to produce and/or use organic soya beans though, and avoiding the genetically modified strains (for example, the UK’s premier producer of soya products, Alpro).

Unfortunately, the main proportion of soya that is produced is used as animal feed for battery farmed animals. Whilst not necessarily natural to their diet, it contains large amounts of protein and is cheap to produce, hence it has become one of the primary foods for animals used for meat. A common anti-vegan argument is that soya bean growth is very destructive, so if everyone went vegan then it would get much worse. This is simply not true – as soya beans are primarily used as animal feed, and animals eat a lot more than humans do anyway, if everyone went vegan then there would be an absolutely huge decline in soya production. Indeed, the amount of soya grown for human consumption would increase, but the overall amount of soya being produced would decline.

Perhaps the most difficult area of the soya bean’s history is surrounding studies which emerged around a decade ago highlighting potential health problems that could occur with the intake of soya. Due to a high level of phytoestrogens, one study has suggested that soya can promote breast cancer. However, this study was done on animals and thus is not reliable, and further studies have actually suggested that soya can reduce risks of breast cancer. For men, there have been theories linking the consumption of soya to a reduction in the quality and quantity of semen. However, experiments have proven to reduce the risks of prostate cancer in men.

The negative health effects of soya are disputable to say the least, and it’s worth doing your own reading if you’re worried. There’s a lack of concrete evidence for the negative effects though, and much of it is based on hypothesising or subject to taking extreme doses. Arguably soya’s greatest evidence in its favour is that it has been used as a foodstuff for several thousand years by the Chinese, and the Eastern diet is often described as the healthiest in the world.

Anyways, I can’t quite see the history of a vegetable becoming a regular feature on Vegangstaz, but the soybean is pretty interesting, mainly due to its versatility and the controversy surrounding it. If you’re interested in reading a little more about this crazy bean, you can find loads of info here. Also, this originally started as a post on why the soybean is a vegan must-have, but I got a bit absorbed into the history of it all, so that post will come along soon enough.

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The Vegan Larder

Welcome to the home of the vegan larder! Here’s where we’ll give you a run down of the stuff we think are essential vegan must-haves to (try and) always have handy. Here is a list of things that I consider to be essentials and try not to do without or things I wish I always had stocked!

.::The must-haves:

  • Herbs&Spices;

(Without these fella’s, my cupboards and meals would lack life!) Black pepper, cayenne, chilli powder, chinese five spice, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry powder, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, tumeric. And here’s a spice I recently discovered: garam masala. Wonderful. Will be making this fella a staple in my diet of spices!

Bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, basil, parsley (any one remember parsley the lion from kids tv? He was my favourite! I wish I could have him in my cupboard but that would be cruel…).

  • Rice&Grains;

Arborio rice (for risottos!), basmati rice, brown rice, couscous. And I know this is cheating but I like to keep my cupboards stocked with a couple of the Uncle Bens 3 minute microwaveable rices. They can be life savers when you don’t have the time!

  • Dried foods;

Puy lentils, red lentils, soy mince (I like to use this when recipes ask for TVP or textured vegetable protein! Always comes in handy).

  • Nuts;

Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts (always nice to sprinkle on stir frys!).

  • Canned goods&jars;

Chickpeas, butter beans, chopped tomatoes, sun-dried tomato paste, tomato purée, peanut butter (for the boyfriend!), your regular condiments such as mustard and ketchup and my personal favourite: brown sauce! I also find it handy to get jars of sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes, they make a great addition to soups, pasta sauces, and pizza toppings!

  • Pasta and noddles;

Linguine, macaroni, rice noodles (I like to get the straight to wok noodles, they make stir fries even quicker and save on the washing up!), soba noodles.

  • Frozen foods;

(I much prefer to buy my veggies fresh but I also like to keep some frozen veggies on hand just in case!) sweetcorn, edamame, peas, spinach, peppers, Linda Mccartney sausages and pies and Fry’s Schnitzels and chicken-style strips (essential for those times you just can’t be bothered to cook!).

  • Fridge foods;

Tofu, rice milk, soy milk (I prefer to get my soy milk from the baking section of the supermarket where you’ll find the UHT milks, not only is it cheaper but you can buy a load and keep them in your cupboard and just transfer them to the fridge as and when you need them!), vegan mayonnaise,

  • Oils and other essential liquids;

Cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, groundnut oil (perfect for those stir fries!), tamari (this is a darker soy sauce, I prefer this to regular soy sauce because it’s got a stronger flavour meaning you don’t need to use as much!), chilli sauce.

Other useful things for vegans to have include nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten, and extra-firm silken tofu. However, these are always things that I find a little less easy to get hold of and so I am, personally, less likely to have these in my cupboard but if you can get hold of these I would highly recommend keeping them in stock!

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