By Lisa Sorg
Meatless in Steer City
Back home in Indiana, my family lived across the road from a 75-acre field that every other year Old Man Pittsford would farm in soybeans. As a carnivorous child, I wondered why the hell one would eat a soybean, but as a vegetarian and lapsed vegan, I've imbibed most of its configurations: Soymilk (delicious), soy ice cream (tasty, particularly chocolate and nut drumsticks), miso (savory as a salad dressing or as a soup), tofu (excellent marinated or in stirfry), and various faux meat, or as it's known in the soybean industry, meat analogs (marginally edible).
Due to its reported health benefits - a good protein source, it may lower risk of coronary artery disease and certain cancers - soy is the modern version of the '70's health fad, the apricot pit. (A caveat: Most soy cheese is off-limits to vegans and those with milk allergies because it contains casein, a milk protein that adds elasticity. And if you dare eat soy cheese, remember to buy organic, as soybeans are often genetically modified.)
Eager to insert soybeans into everything from cereal to crème brulée, industry lobbyists herald soy cheese's palatability. A nutrition consultant to the Indiana Soybean Board advised soy neophytes to take advantage of soy cheese's "great taste and texture" and that it is a "more than acceptable alternative to traditional cheeses."
In a taste test, for which I deserve hazardous duty pay, I sampled TofuRella Cheddar flavor, Veggie Chef's Award pepper jack flavor, and Soya Kaas monterey flavor for taste, texture, and meltability.
TofuRella is pre-packaged in squares much like American cheese, but lacks creaminess or sweetness. It's overwhelmingly beany, with an aftertaste that grows bitter as the minutes pass. Time for a margarita to cleanse the palate. Chewy, yet dry - like sawdust mixed with gum - it melts convincingly. On bread with mustard, you could keep it down in a hypoglycemic stupor, but otherwise, forget it.
Rubbery, somewhat sour, and with an odd, musty odor (nauseated, I checked the expiration date; it read October 2004), Soykaas monterey jack flavor, to quote Ralph Nader, is unsafe at any speed. I didn't heat it for fear it would turn into napalm. Time for a margarita, to kill whatever is now growing inside me.
Galaxy's Veggie Chef's product claims it melts great, although it didn't hold up to the microwave test: The cheese fizzled and went limp. Neither is it visually appealing - dotted with jalapeños and red peppers, the beige hunk looks like carpet backing - but the peppers mask the beaniness. Veggie Chef tastes cheesey enough to be toothpick worthy. Time for a margarita: Salud! Here's to pepper jack!
According to the Iowa State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, soy cheese is made from soy white flakes and milk fat. White flakes are flaked soybeans from which the fat has been extracted with hexane. (Yum! Hexane!) The white flakes are used to make soymilk into which milk fat is emulsified. The milk is then fermented with bacterial cultures typical of those used in cheese. Acid is produced by the cultures, and the soymilk gels. The cheese is cut into curds, "cooked" at a low temperature, and pressed. A cheese-like substance is formed that can be enhanced by the addition of amino acids and enzymes.
Translation: Soycheese is inedible, but has other more practical uses. Here are the top 10 alternative uses for soy cheese - sliced, cubed, or melted:
10. Weather stripping
By Lisa Sorg