Can you spot five soy foods here?
Soy is a somewhat contentious food. Some say that it’s extremely good for you, some say that it borders on poisonous, and some say that it’s just a measly bean. I have no idea where the truth lies, but what I do know is that Koreans have been consuming soy in various guises for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Here’s a definitely-not-definitive guide to several of the soy products you’ll find here in Korea:
1) Soy beans (대두/흰콩) - These come in several verities and colors, but are generally thought of as ingredients or resources, rather than as a food. Some say that the harmful chemicals within are only broken down after the beans have been fermented, but, then again, fresh steamed Edamame are big in Japan.
Dried soy beans
and fresh ones
2) Soy blocks (메주) – When I first saw one of these, I mistook it for an exceptionally hearty loaf of multigrain bread. Upon closer inspection, I found it to be a giant block of soy beans that have been steamed, smushed, formed into a brick, and left suspended in the air to dry and ferment – a culinary disappointment surpassed only by all the times I’ve expect something to be filled with chocolate and instead found it stuffed with red bean paste.
Looks a bit like bread, no?
3) Soy sauce (간장) / Soybean paste (된장)– add saltwater to the 메주 and let them steep together. After about a month, separate the solids and liquids, both of which you can continue to ferment separately to your heart’s content. The former becomes soybean paste, which can be used to season salads (된장무침) or as a base for soup (된장찌개), while the latter, once boiled, becomes soy sauce, into which many varieties of savory pancake are meant to be dunked.
Three types of soy sauce
Some soybean paste
4) Cheonggukjang (청국장) – lighter in color and deeper in stench than soybean paste. Cheongukjang is made by boiling the beans for ten to twenty hours then setting them out to ferment immediately. As it isn’t combined with salt until later in the fermentation process, it doesn’t keep quite as long. It’s primarily made into a thick, stinky stew (청국장찌개), which is guaranteed to scrub your intestines clean.
5) Tofu (두부) – everyone’s favorite floppy flavorless food. Made by soaking the beans, grinding them, boiling them, straining them through a cheese cloth, and then leaving the resulting mixture to settle. Comes in several varities :순두부, the runny version that goes into spicy soups,; 찌개용두부, the more formidable version that goes in your soybean paste soup; 생식용두부, which is in the middle of the floppy spectrum and eaten straight as a side dish; and 부침용두부, which is best suited for stir-fries.
The runny one
...in a stew
A slightly stronger version, pan-friend and seasoned
And raw, salad style
6) Tofu remnants (콩비지) – in dire need of renaming, these are the grainy parts left over from the process of making tofu. They are often used in thick soups (콩비지찌개) and in pancakes (콩비비전). Or to feed the pigs or supplement the compost pile.
...in a stew
Tofu remains pancake!
7) Soy oil (콩기름/대두유/대두기름 / 식용유) – this is the stuff that’s used to deep- or stir-fry just about everything on the cheap and dirty. Probably best to avoid ingesting this as much as possible.
8) Soy milk (두유) – Remember that bean-infused water that got strained out of the tofu? Mix it with some sweeteners and maybe some preservatives and you’ve got something drinkable.
Three of about a million kinds. Plain, sesame, and black bean.
9) Soy chips (두부 과자)- these are made to look kind of like little ribbons, with a cute, bright, white and green package that makes you feel like you’re eating something healthy. Don’t be fooled, these things are about 90% flour and oil, with a little plant matter thrown in for image’s sake.
Looks like a health food...
...but is most definitely not a health food.
Look at all the ingenious things that can be done with one humble bean! Whether you’re a hippy, a health-food freak, or a plain old ajumma, soy can surely be used to make something to your liking.
* This article will appear in an upcoming addition of inDaegu.