Annette Chan shares an authentic recipe for Chinese homemade sweetened soy milk — with just three ingredients and a versatile byproduct.
Prep time: Six to 10 hours (for soaking)
Cook time: 50 minutes
Makes 2 litres
300g yellow soybeans
50g granulated sugar (add less or more to taste)
2.75l water (tap water is fine)
Medium-sized pot (minimum capacity of 3.5l, preferably stainless steel)
Cheesecloth or nut-milk bag
Large heatproof drink container with a good seal
Fine mesh strainer
- Soak your soybeans in room temperature water for six to 10 hours.
- Rinse the beans in a colander and discard any of the loose outer skins. Place half of the beans in a blender with 350ml of water and blend for 20 to 30 seconds, or until the mixture becomes a frothy liquid.
- Place a medium to large pot in the sink. Hold a cheesecloth bag firmly in the pot and pour the soy mixture into the bag in batches. Squeeze the bag to extract as much liquid as possible until all that remains inside it resembles a gritty, crumbly dough.
(Don’t throw the leftover solids away. Soy pulp — also known as doufuzha or okara — is a protein- and fibre-rich product that you can use to make vegetarian patties and sausages, as well as tempeh, egg substitutes, and soy flour. Since okara contains a high concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus, it also makes a good plant fertilizer or compost.)
- Repeat the blending and straining process with the second batch of beans.
- Fill the pot with an additional two litres of water. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Add the sugar, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. As the mixture boils, continue stirring it occasionally and skimming the foam off the top.
- After 30 minutes, carefully taste the soy milk to see if it is to your liking and add more sugar if necessary.
- Simmer for another five to 10 minutes or until the liquid reaches a similar consistency to full-fat cow’s milk. Turn the heat off and let the milk cool for a few minutes.
- To store, pour the soy milk into a large heatproof container through a fine-mesh strainer. It’ll keep in the refrigerator for about five days. However, I recommend you strain and drink at least one serving while it’s still piping hot and fresh from the stove — it’s warm, comforting, and utterly delicious.
If there’s one ingredient that is held in equally high regard by Chinese people and vegans alike (though the overlap in that Venn diagram is growing by the day), it’s the soybean. From soy sauce to tofu, tempeh, and yuba, the soybean has given us a lot to be thankful for — and that’s before we even get to meat analogues. And besides tofu, which is an entire category unto itself, one of the most versatile soy products is the humble and beloved soy milk.
In East Asia, soy milk isn’t just a dairy replacement (though the irony of lactose intolerance’s prevalence among East Asians is not lost on us). In Hong Kong — where one of the most enduring icons of the city’s industrial era is Vitasoy, a homegrown soy milk brand — a glass bottle of soy milk is as classic and nostalgia-inducing as a tinted green bottle of Coca Cola is in North America.
But while the rising number of people embracing plant-based diets has led to plant milks skyrocketing in popularity across the world, the soy milk consumed outside of Asia is a far cry from traditional Chinese sweetened soy milk.
Unlike many of the soy milk products that are widely available in Western countries, Chinese soy milk embraces the beans’ natural flavour, rather than tamping it down. In fact, the soybean aroma is highly valued among Chinese consumers, which is one of the reasons why stores often sell freshly bottled soy milk at drastically reduced prices towards the end of the day.
Once you realise how cost-effective this soy milk recipe is — there are only three ingredients, including tap water, and it yields 2 litres — you’ll never go back to the store-bought kind.