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Finding soy milk in the States isn't very difficult - it's generally stocked in supermarkets and used as an alternative to dairy. However, I'm not sure if the flavour of typical American soy milk (even the "unsweetened" variety) is sufficiently similar in taste to the soy milk I've had in East Asia.

As an example - in Hong Kong, if I remember correctly, Vitasoy sells unsweetened soy milk with the ingredients listed as:

Water, soy beans

Comparatively, the Silk brand that sells non-dairy alternatives lists additional ingredients on their soy milk (even the "original" variety or the "unsweetened" one), such as additional vitamins and sea salt.

Is the soy milk commonly sold in supermarkets in the US (outside of places such as Asian supermarkets) similar in taste to the type found in East Asia? I've heard that there might be some differences, but I don't have enough "experience" with this to judge if those accounts are correct.

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    cooking.se may be more appropriate for this... – Karlson Jun 4 '14 at 20:36
  • I would think any flavour differences would be minimal. What are you planning on using it for? – ElendilTheTall Jun 5 '14 at 15:04
  • @ElendilTheTall: I am just interested in drinking soy milk. – Maroon Jun 5 '14 at 18:27
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Most of the popular soy milk in the US is sweetened, thickened and flavored. It's also may have ingredients added as stabilizers, preservatives, the usual.

East Asian style soy milk is simply the result of grinding mature soy beans (usually dry ones that have been soaked in water) and water and then straining the result.

The differences would be pretty stark in some regards: US soy milk is much thicker (like cow's milk), and generally sweetened, which the East Asian soy milk will not be.

One version of soy milk made like this in the US is "West Soy Soymilk, Organic, Unsweetened", the ingredients are purely "Water, Soybeans".

Other than buying this type of soy milk, your other option is to make it. To do this, follow this procedure (Adopted from "Modernist Cuisine"):

  1. Soak dry soy beans in a 1:1 mass ratio with water for at least 14 hours. Drain.
  2. Puree drained soybeans with in 3:1 mass ration (water to dry bean weight). Puree until mixture is fine particulate, almost "creamy and grainy" in texture.
  3. Pour mixture into sauce pan and add boiling water in a 1.5:1 (boiling water to dry soy bean mass) and simmer about 20 minutes. Let cool.
  4. Strain mixture through cheese cloth.

The resulting components will be soy milk (the strained liquid) and okara (soy bean pulp). The okara has several culinary uses, so you may want to save it, or you can toss it. The yield of this will be about 1 kg of soy milk for 250 g of dried soy beans, or about a half of a gallon per pound.

  • I don't mind drinking sweetened soy milk per se (packaged soy milk in East Asia often is sweetened anyway), but thanks for pointing out that US soy milk may well be thicker. – Maroon Jun 5 '14 at 20:46
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East Asian soy milk and American soy milk taste very different, and not just because of added ingredients like sugar and emulsifiers.

Soy beans contain an enzyme called lipoxidase, which breaks down unsaturated fatty acids into shorter chain lipids. For American markets, manufacturers presoak the beans in solvents such as calcium hydroxide in order to destroy this enzyme. After the enzyme is gone, the solvent is deactivated with an acid to form a neutral pH product. In East Asian markets, no one bothers with this added step, and just leave the lipoxidase in there.

Why the difference? Taste, mostly. Remember The shorter chain lipids mentioned before? They taste, well, bean-y. Soy milk manufacturers like Silk found through trial and error that Americans want their soybean milk to taste more like milk, and less like soybean, so this bean taste must be neutralized.

For East Asian people who grew up drinking soybean milk, soybean milk needs to taste like, well, soybean.

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What I noticed, is that I'm invariably allergic to all soy milk based products produced in Western countries (I live in Europe), whatever the brand, but that I have no allergy to soy bean based Asian products (Soy sauce, tofu, fresh soy beans, soy milk of Asian origin).

I'm also allergic to vegetable milk made with almonds or rice. There must be a difference in production.

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    Whatever makes that difference is either on the ingredients list, or hidden as a "processing aid" (damn and blast commonly found laws that do not require such to be listed) - unless your allergen is a result of processing (unlikely!)... – rackandboneman Aug 20 '17 at 23:58

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