Boy, am I going to get hate mail for this one.
Studies tout it as a wonder food. Doctors recommend it. Claims are that it will cut your calories and reduce your intake of “bad” fat, diminish the symptoms of menopause, reduce the risk of cancer, treat kidney disease and lower cholesterol levels. It probably could clean out your refrigerator and lube your car, too.
“It,” of course, is soy.
Health-foodies have advocated soy stuff for decades. In the not-too-distant past, soy was only available in forms that made one want to moo at the dinner table. So you weren’t apt to find glowing soy-recipe reviews in the “Food & Wine” or “Saveur” magazines.
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But as the scientific soy buzz grew, enterprising manufacturers found new ways to serve us their soy, theoretically saving our bacon and bringing home theirs. Just check out the soy aisle of the health-food store, or the shelf at your corner grocery, for heaven’s sake.
In these days of low-carb everything but underwear, you’ll see soy cheese, soy nuts, soy dips, soy milk, soy ice cream, soy chips and cookies, soy shakes, soy cereal and tempeh. And there’s the inevitable tofu in forms from the traditional bricks-in-water to patties and pats coyly designed to look like burgers, pork chops, bacon, sausage, chicken wings and turkeys.
Get real. No matter how you try to disguise it, it will still be a Tofurkey.
I do like some kinds of soy, and a few manufacturers have managed to successfully bring the flavor out of the field and barnyard and into a kitchen.
And then there are soy nuts.
I really, really wanted to like soy nuts, which look like mummified English peas that took a punch to the solar plexus. Just think: a crunchy little snack that could replace those yummy-but-evil, trans-fat-soaked chips and crackers, a snack that would actually be good for me. Low sodium, no cholesterol. Yum. Yippee.
Unfortunately, soy nuts hit my taste buds like the used cigarette filter somebody once tossed into my bucket of popcorn.
I’m sure the expression on my face when I tried soy nuts had to mirror that of someone who’d popped his wad of bubble gum back into his mouth, only to discover he’d gotten his child’s Silly Putty by mistake.
Soy burgers, too, are not what they’re touted to be: vegetarian-friendly clones for high-fat hamburgers. Trust me, that’s like trying to make a ball gown out of duct tape. You can do it, but you won’t like it.
I do enjoy an occasional veggie burger, but you can’t convince me it’s prime, single-ground beef, so don’t try.
I also really like tofu in the right place which happens to be in little cubes in miso soup.
I’ll even go so far as to say a tofu scramble is good, as long as nobody tries to tell me it’s “the same as scrambled eggs.” NO, it’s not. It’s mooshed-up tofu with veggies and curry powder in it. Tasty, perhaps. Scrambled eggs, not even close.
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t put curry in my morning eggs. At 7 a.m., there’s just something about that color.
Another problem with soy stuff is texture. While I have been known to use small amounts of vanilla soy milk on other things — such as oatmeal — the idea of sitting down to an icy glass of the stuff holds all the attraction of munching on an unsalted desk blotter. To me, a soy shake tastes like a colder, marginally thicker glass of pre-xray barium goo (which I have to be anesthetized to swallow). Likewise, soy energy bars don’t energize me. They make me tired, because they’re chewy enough to be impenetrable by anyone whose teeth have been supplemented by the skills of a dentist. You could build a real nice retaining wall out of soy energy bars. Capt. Nitt Witt would have loved it for his ridge. One thing soy does beautifully, however, is meld with a little wheat and turn into soy sauce. Where would Kikkoman, Chun King and Ming Tsai be without it? But good for you? At more than 1,000 mg of sodium per tablespoon for regular, and 575 mg per tablespoon for unleaded, I don’t think so.
Soy’s a wonder food? Perhaps. But for me, the wonder is why people eat it in every form, say they love them all and really mean it.
This column ran first in The Cambrian on May 27, 2004.