Soy Protein – Your Essential Guide to Soy and Tofu


Are you a fan of soy protein? With so many variations, soy can be a delicious extra in many recipes or even the main focus for a nutrient-packed healthy meal. 

Today, I’m writing about soy and sharing one of my favorite tofu recipes, because soybeans and soyfoods provide high-quality protein which are often overlooked in the grocery store.

What Is Soy?

Soybeans are not much of a dietary staple in the western world. But traditional soy foods, like tofu, miso, and tempeh, have formed the basis of the diet in East Asia for centuries, where they’re valued not only for their versatility but also for the healthy nutrition they offer.

Soy Is Nutrient-Packed

While all beans provide protein, soybeans top the list when it comes to protein quality. Proteins are made up of small building blocks called amino acids. Some amino acids are termed essential, which means that we have to get them from foods because our bodies can’t make them. A protein that contains all the essential amino acids is termed ‘complete’—and soy is one of the few complete proteins in the plant world.

Soybeans are low in saturated fat and, like all plant foods, are also naturally cholesterol-free. Soybeans also offer up calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and B-vitamins, along with omega-3 fats.

If you’re trying to work more plant protein into your diet, you might want to give soy a try. With so many soy products to choose from, it’s easier than ever. Here are some of the most popular forms of soy.

Soy Options

  • Edamame is fresh green soybean. You can often find these in your grocer’s freezer, either in the pod or already shelled. After briefly cooking in salted water, they can be eaten as a snack or added to soups and salads.
  • Tempeh is made from soybeans that are partially cooked, allowed to ferment and then formed into a firm block. Since tempeh is fermented, it’s a source of “good bacteria,” or probiotics. Tempeh has a meaty flavor and firm texture that holds its shape, so it’s great for salads and stir-fry dishes.
  • Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans, which means it also contains probiotics. It’s used as base for soup as well as an ingredient in sauces, salad dressings and marinades. There are different varieties, and the color can range from light yellow to very deep brown. In general, light miso is less salty and milder in flavor than dark miso.
  • Soy milk is made from dried soybeans which are soaked in water until they’re rehydrated, then ground with water. The resulting milk is sold as a beverage or made into yogurt. Soy milk and soy yogurt each have about 7 grams of protein per 8 ounce (250 ml) serving. You can use soy milk as a beverage on its own, or you can substitute it for regular milk in most recipes or in protein shakes.
  • Soy nuts are roasted whole soybeans. They make a nice snack on their own, and they’re also good in salads, trail mix and on cereal. Soy nuts (and soy nut butter, which is made from ground soy nuts) have a bit more protein and a bit less fat than peanuts or peanut butter.
  • Soy protein powders and meat substitutes are made from soybean flour that’s had most of the fat removed. The powders can be added to shakes or stirred into oatmeal, and the soy meat substitutes can be used in all sorts of recipes in place of meat or poultry.
  • Tofu is essentially a cheese that’s made from soy milk. It ranges in texture from extra firm to extra soft and has a very mild flavor. It mixes well with anything from spicy sauces to naturally sweet fruits. The firmer type of tofu is good for grilling or stir-frying, while the softer, creamier style is good in shakes or sweetened and topped with fruit as a dessert.

Your Quick Guide to Tofu

There are so many types of tofu that can seem confusing.

Silken tofu has the most moisture of all types of tofu. It has a soft, very smooth, custard-like texture and tends to fall apart easily. It also comes in different degrees of firmness, so don’t assume that all silken tofu is soft. Silken tofu is the best tofu for whipping up in the blender or food processor. Once it’s blended, silken tofu adds a smooth texture and nice protein boost to shakes, soups, and sauce. Silken tofu can be turned into a healthy dessert when it’s blended with fruit, a dab of honey and a dash of cinnamon. Or you can blend it with garlic and herbs and use as a tasty dip for raw veggies.

Soft or medium tofu holds its shape a bit better than silken tofu, and it’s often mashed with a fork into a soft crumbly texture that makes a nice meat substitute in foods like pasta sauce. It’s also often used to make an ‘eggless’ egg salad by mashing with a bit of mustard and low-fat mayonnaise or with some avocado.

Firm or extra firm tofu has the meatiest texture of any tofu, which means it holds up to stir-frying, roasting or grilling. To make it even chewier and more ‘meat-like,’ some people slice it up and freeze it (which will change the color, but not affect the taste) before using in recipes.

My Favorite Tofu Recipe

Still not sure about soy and tofu? Try my recipe for Quinoa Tofu Tacos.

Category, DifficultyBeginner

Yields9 Servings
Total Time25 mins

 ½ cup Quinoa (uncooked)
 8 oz Tofu (extra firm, crumbled)
 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive OIl
 2 ½ tsp Chili Powder
 1 ½ tsp Cumin
 1 tsp oregano
 1 tsp Garlic Powder
 ½ tsp Sea Salt
 1 ½ cups Organic Salsa (divided)
 1 tbsp Lime Juice
 1 tsp Nutritional Yeast
 12 Whole Wheat Tortillas (small)
 3 Avocaudos
 1 Romaine hearts (chopped)
 2 Green onions (chopped)

1

Cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package.

2

Meanwhile, in a dry non-stick skillet over medium heat add the crumbled tofu. Cook, stirring often, for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the tofu to a dish and set aside.

3

Once your quinoa is cooked, add oil to the pan followed by the cooked quinoa, chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder and salt. Stir to combine then add a third of the salsa, the lime, nutritional yeast and browned tofu.

4

Spread the quinoa and tofu mixture into a flat even layer in the pan and let it caramelize for 3 to 4 minutes before stirring and flattening again until quinoa is slightly crispy. Season with additional salt or lime juice if needed. Transfer the quinoa mixture to a dish and set aside.

5

Warm the tortillas in a skillet over medium-low heat turning occasionally until soft.

6

To assemble the tacos, layer the mashed avocado, remaining salsa and quinoa tofu taco meat on top of a warm tortilla followed by the romaine lettuce and green onion. Enjoy!

7

Leftovers

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to five days. Wait to mash the avocado and assemble tacos until just before serving.

Serving Size

One serving is approximately one taco.

Gluten-Free

Use corn tortillas, brown rice tortillas or lettuce wraps instead.

Additional Toppings
Add cilantro, sliced jalapenos, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, diced tomatoes and/or lime wedges.

Ingredients

 ½ cup Quinoa (uncooked)
 8 oz Tofu (extra firm, crumbled)
 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive OIl
 2 ½ tsp Chili Powder
 1 ½ tsp Cumin
 1 tsp oregano
 1 tsp Garlic Powder
 ½ tsp Sea Salt
 1 ½ cups Organic Salsa (divided)
 1 tbsp Lime Juice
 1 tsp Nutritional Yeast
 12 Whole Wheat Tortillas (small)
 3 Avocaudos
 1 Romaine hearts (chopped)
 2 Green onions (chopped)

Directions

1

Cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package.

2

Meanwhile, in a dry non-stick skillet over medium heat add the crumbled tofu. Cook, stirring often, for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the tofu to a dish and set aside.

3

Once your quinoa is cooked, add oil to the pan followed by the cooked quinoa, chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder and salt. Stir to combine then add a third of the salsa, the lime, nutritional yeast and browned tofu.

4

Spread the quinoa and tofu mixture into a flat even layer in the pan and let it caramelize for 3 to 4 minutes before stirring and flattening again until quinoa is slightly crispy. Season with additional salt or lime juice if needed. Transfer the quinoa mixture to a dish and set aside.

5

Warm the tortillas in a skillet over medium-low heat turning occasionally until soft.

6

To assemble the tacos, layer the mashed avocado, remaining salsa and quinoa tofu taco meat on top of a warm tortilla followed by the romaine lettuce and green onion. Enjoy!

7

Leftovers

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to five days. Wait to mash the avocado and assemble tacos until just before serving.

Serving Size

One serving is approximately one taco.

Gluten-Free

Use corn tortillas, brown rice tortillas or lettuce wraps instead.

Additional Toppings
Add cilantro, sliced jalapenos, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, diced tomatoes and/or lime wedges.

Quinoa Tofu Tacos