Monday, April 12, 2010

To Soy or Not To Soy... That is the Question

It seems the more I read about food, the less inclined I am to be waving any sort of banner in anyone's face about what we should or should not be eating.  Why?  As hinted at in previous posts, I am coming around to the notion that what we choose to put in our bodies is a highly personal decision. And that what we eat varies greatly depending on geography, demographics, religious beliefs, nutritional beliefs, and perhaps above all, food availability (or scarcity). 

That being said, I believe that we should educate ourselves with as much information (conflicting though it may seem) so that we can make the best possible decisions for our health and for the well-being of the plants and animals we share the planet with.   It would be great if we could actually trust our food suppliers and believe that what is marketed to us as "healthy" or "good for us" actually is.  Which brings me to the topic of veggie burgers.  They are quite often offered up as a meat-free "healthier" alternative to conventional burgers.  But are they really?
According to a Mother Jones article, non-organic veggie burgers are processed with hexane.  Hex-a-what?

In order to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers, manufacturers of soy-based fake meat like to make their products have as little fat as possible. The cheapest way to do this is by submerging soybeans in a bath of hexane to extract the oil from the protein. Says Cornucopia Institute senior researcher Charlotte Vallaeys, "If a non-organic product contains a soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, you can be pretty sure it was made using soy beans that were made with hexane."

If you've heard about hexane before, it was likely in the context of gasoline—the air pollutant is also a byproduct of gas refining. But in 2007, grain processors were responsible for two-thirds of our national hexane emissions. Hexane is hazardous in the factory, too: Workers who have been exposed to it have developed both skin and nervous system disorders. Troubling, then, that the FDA does not monitor or regulate hexane residue in foods. More worrisome still: According to the report, "Nearly every major ingredient in conventional soy-based infant formula is hexane extracted."

So, here is more from the The Cornucopia Institute about soy and the soy products that are processed with hexane.  I encourage you to take a look.  I bet you might be as surprised as I was.   

Soy Report and Scorecard.
Wow.  I don't know about you, but this report makes me think twice about ordering a veggie burger and I'll definitely be more careful when shopping for soy products.  I'll be making sure mine are organic.


  1. There is a great book about this topic called The Whole Soy Story by Kaayla T. Daniel. I avoid non-fermented soy now which means I buy almost nothing that comes in a package because soy is in EVERYTHING!!

  2. I have always been wary of Soy. It seemed a bit odd that it has been the main replacement for meat in vegetarian diets. How can this one food replace the myriad number of sources of protein that have supported humans for 100000's of years?

  3. Dan... soy has supported humans in Asia for 1,000s of years, too.

  4. I believe traditional Asian diets used primarily fermented soy products and only in small amounts. That's as opposed to the chemically processed soy that modern vegetarians consume in mass quantities as their main protein source.

  5. Here's a recipe I found for making your own hexane-free veggie burgers:

    Chickpea Spinach Veggie Burgers

    2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
    1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
    5 ounces fresh spinach
    1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
    Diced shredded carrots (optional)
    Finely diced onion (optional)
    1 crushed clove of garlic (optional)
    2 eggs
    Juice of 1/2 lemon
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup chickpea flour or more if needed (Make your own by grinding dried chickpeas to a powder or look for "gram flour" in Indian grocery stores or food sections)

    Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a skillet. Add the cumin seeds and spinach and cook a few minutes until the spinach is wilted. Let cool then squeeze out as much liquid as possible and finely chop.
    Combine 1 1/4 cups of the chickpeas, the eggs, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor. Pulse the mixture until it looks like chunky hummus.
    In a large bowl, combine the spinach with the last 1/4 cup chick peas and any optional veggies you're adding (feel free to experiment!). Mash coarsely with a potato masher. Stir in the bean-egg mixture then fold in the chickpea flour. The mixture should be sticky yet moldable. Add more flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, if it's too wet, or a bit of water if too dry. Sculpt into 5 patties.
    In an oven-safe skillet, heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add the patties and brown on each side. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the burgers firm up and cook all the way through.