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This is Part 2 in my series, Soy – The Unhealthy Health Food. If you haven’t already, please read Part 1 in this series, where I discuss the dangers of consuming unfermented soy products.
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Importance of Fermentation
The soybean has been around since the beginning of time and has been a major food source for humans for millennia. The earliest mentions of the soybean date back to 3,000 B.C. by the Emperor of China. In Asian cultures, soy is a major part of their diet, and study after study has shown the low rate of Western diseases in these traditional cultures. However, the important difference is that the products they consume have been fermented.
The fermentation process of soy eliminates the dangers that I discussed in Part 1 of this series. Fermentation is important because:
- It increases the digestibility of the soybean, because the enzyme inhibitors have been broken down so that the digestive system can more easily assimilate the legume.
- It increases the nutrition of soy by converting specific minerals (like zinc, copper, magnesium, etc.) into soluble forms that are easily absorbed by the body.
- It allows beneficial bacteria to flourish and helps increase the flora of the intestines, which not only assists with the digestion of soy, but the overall health of your digestive system.
- Fermentation adds Vitamin K2 to the food. This is probably one of the most important benefits of fermented soy (and other foods), as Vitamin K2 is critical to preventing diseases like dementia, osteoporosis, certain forms of cancer, as well as heart disease. Vitamin K is usually forgotten about, yet it holds some of the most important benefits of all the vitamins.
What Soy Products Should I Eat?
There are some very healthy soy products that you can add to your diet in moderation. The most common forms of fermented soy products are:
Miso – a very salty, fermented soybean paste that is most commonly used in miso soup, but it is also used for Japanese foods like sauces, spreads, and for pickling meats and vegetables.
Natto – a popular Japanese breakfast food, created from fermenting soybeans with a specific bacteria called bacillus subtilis. It is very rich in good bacteria and protein. It is definitely an acquired taste (I’m not there yet), as the texture, smell, and flavor is quite different from anything that most Americans are accustomed to.
Soy Sauce or Tamari – The most common fermented soy product. It is created by fermenting soybeans with specific molds -aspergillus oryzae or aspergillus soyae – and is used as a condiment in both China and Japan.
Tempeh – A fermented soy food that originated in Indonesia. It comes in a cake-like form and is made by fermenting and culturing soybeans through a natural process that yields a high-protein, high-fiber, and high-vitamin product with strong flavor.
Sweet Bean Sauce – This is a Chinese sauce that is made from salt, sugar, wheat flour, fermented yellow soybeans, and mantou (a steamed bread).
Yellow Soybean Paste – a fermented paste, much like sweet bean sauce, that is made out of fermented yellow soybeans, salt, water, and sometimes wheat flour. It is used in China, mostly in Beijing and Northern China.
You might be wondering why tofu is not on this list. There is some debate over tofu, which is probably, after soy milk, one of the most widely consumed soy products in the US. Most tofu that you buy in the grocery store is not fermented. It is simply coagulated soy milk that is pressed into curds. I would not recommend eating normal tofu that you find in the store.
However, there are a couple of fermented tofu products that can be safely consumed in moderation.
Fermented Bean Curd – This is usually eaten as a condiment with breakfast. It is made by taking chunks of dried tofu that is air-dried and then allowed to ferment from the bacteria and fungus in the air. It is then soaked in a brine and sold in little glass jars.
Stinky Tofu – Sounds delicious doesn’t it? Of all the fermented soy products, I find this one the most fascinating. This form of tofu has a very strong odor and is generally eaten as a snack in East and Southeast Asia. The interesting thing about this form of tofu is that it is typically homemade, which means that there is no specific formula for a starter bacteria. So, depending on what region you are in, the stinky tofu will vary with that region. While modern technology has allowed factories to produce this product, true stinky tofu can only be found it in roadside stands, small village markets or in someone’s home, as the fermentation process can take several months (and there’s no set starter bacteria formula). Any stinky tofu that you would find in the store has not been truly fermented – factories usually only let it sit in brine for a day or two before packaging.
I hope that this series has been beneficial in helping you understand the truth about soy. Like most products that are sold to us in the grocery store, we have been fed a line of clever marketing to disguise a dangerous food as a miraculous health food. One of the things that we must all do, if we want to take complete control of our health, is to understand what our food is and where it comes from. Understanding the dangers of common commercial soy products is one step closer to our “enlightenment”.
NaturalNews.com – Fermented Soy is Only Soy Food Fit for Human Consumption
WikiPedia – Fermented Soy Products
The Weston A. Price Foundation – Soy Alert!