Whilst I appreciate the machinery in our daily lives which aids more than takes away or adds in stress/tasks to do and say thank you to them directly (yes I do that), there are two types that I can honestly say changed/enhanced my life; the laptop and netbook I’ve had in the past 14-ish years (primarily due to the internet) and the Soylove milk maker.
In the past 2 years that I’ve been regularly using it when asked “what does it do?” I’ve thought to myself “what doesn’t it do?” Since I’ve discovered a lot of uses in that time beyond its advertising and all the tutorials I read/watched from people making homemade alternative milks and tofu prior to investing in one. I say alternative milks because I mean milk that does not come from an animal so dairy/lactose free being the main allergen labels; common alternatives include soy/soya, rice, oat, coconut, almond and hazelnut though I’ve had/made others like walnut, cashew and peanut so the experience of a product like this is helpful for those with grain intolerances and nut allergies also. Some people don’t call them milks because they’re non-animal, others use the term plant milk(s) but for the purpose of this review I’ll simply refer to them as milk.
Many people who try something different from their usual shopping habits are confronted with large sections of the supermarket that they never really noticed before and the variety of any product can be mind boggling. Some will give up trying if/when they come across a brand or product from a brand that they don’t like and believe that other if not all of the products/ranges will also be disagreeable to them. It’s that mind barrier that’s difficult to overcome when talking about or buying items in front of others that they find unusual. However with more people recognizing food sensitivities in themselves and those close to them and with the ‘vegan/vegan friendly’ and ‘gluten free’ tags becoming a common sight on food packaging more people are thinking about how consuming in similar ways to such diets/lifestyles might benefit their own be it for treatment, maintenance or prevention. So an appliance like this can also be very helpful to many people including foodies/those interested in trying and benefiting from the increased variety it brings – seriously becoming vegan forced me to learn to cook from scratch, learn so much about ingredients and opened the door to so many more ingredients; knowing how to put them together and in what order for both nutrition and taste has become instinctive.
WHAT IS IT THOUGH AND WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
A milk maker is basically a hot grinder/blender, like a coffee grinder but built to get more yield – I mean for home and not industrial use. It heats up and removes the traditional necessity of soaking the beans first. There are many types, most tutorials I studied involved basic blender style designs but I wanted something more sturdy/durable and so I opted for what was ‘second best’ at the time of those available to me as they were quite pricey as an upfront purchase but I’m glad I made this decision because as I said before it’s really turned out to be an investment. At the time the general price on eBay was £140 but I put in an offer and got mine for £100 including shipping. Sound expensive perhaps? Think about it this way; the price of 1litre cartoons of milk/juice (as that is the main and larger size alternative milks are generally sold in) and how much that adds up to every month let alone annually and if there’s more than one person in your household that shares the drinks, and perhaps it is essential for them. That’s a lot of money for mostly water (even a heck of a lot fruit juices are from concentrate) and water that you don’t know where it came from, how/if it’s been treated/what’s in it, how/if it’s been filtered, what type of filter(s) let alone distilled and/or remineralized. What I’ve learned? I only need 80g of soy beans to make 1.5l of milk, and ‘okara’ and ‘thick bit’ (all of which I will explain) which make upto approx 200ml and how every part of that end product is valuable. That’s 8% of a box I’d pay varying prices for depending on the brand/sale and I don’t need added vitamins because I have the bi-products from the cooking process neither do I have to worry about consistency or taste because I can make it just the way I/we like it.
I bought my milk maker and a 25kg sack of organic soya beans from a reputable wholesaler and that was that, well a couple of teething problems (which I will also explain) but worked those out and it’s been worth it.
In the box:
The maker comes in 4 main pieces;
A) The head/heating element and control panel
B) The base with movable handle
C) A freestanding sieve that fits onto the head
D) The power cord
Along with those came:
F) Handheld sieve
G) Measuring container – upto 100g
H) Muslin cloth
I) 16 sachets of Nigari salt
It’s very simple to use and there’s only three buttons/functions; 1) Tofu, 2) Milk/Porridge, 3) Tea (and all three options can be used for various soups). There’s no on/off button, it turns on when you plug it in and beeps & blinks (Red LED light per button) to tell you what it’s doing. I’ll explain the processes per function in the next section.
Basically the ingredients go into the freestanding sieve which twist fits onto the head or they go directly into the base, the head then sits on top and has a rubber seal, the dual purpose handle is pulled upwards and locks it all into place, you then press the button/function you want and let it get on with its job.
Most milk makers I’ve seen look like blenders in that they have clear and transparent bases/casing and are very plasticky. This one is bulkier and there’s an inner layer of the base made of steel with measurement markings at 800ml, 1300ml and 1700ml. The outer layer is plastic and there’s vents at the bottom along with standing grips. One the whole it reminds me of a milk churn. Once filled with ingredients and locked into position it can be quite heavy, I’m ok with that and mum found it easier the more she used it. At the time another sieve could also be bought separately (I use mine frequently and there’s not much wear and tear so haven’t needed an extra one.)
Steps: (Dried beans are generally used)
1) Pour water into base
2) Measure beans out into measuring cup/container and put them in the sieve & fit it to the head.
3) Place the head on top of the base and lock both parts together by raising the handle.
4) Put the plug in a socket and switch it on, the maker will beep.
5) Press Option 2, the Milk/Porridge button – its LED comes on, it flashes when grinding and when the job is completed.
6) After 20min heating it will beep again to tell you its about to start grinding, it will grind 7 times (approx 10sec a time), then it’ll do its final heating/settling for a further 5min and then give a series of shorter beeps to tell you it’s completed.
7) At that point you just switch it off at the mains and remove the power cord from the maker. Note – the handle has to be in locked position for the maker to start, conversely the cord has to be removed before the handle can be released/unlocked; I find this to be a handy safety feature.
8) Lower the handle into unlocked position and have a couple of small plates ready, a spoon, a ladle and perhaps a pot. Lift the head slowly as a lot of steam will come up, I then shake/move it around gently to get all the loose milk still in the sieve out before then putting the whole thing on a plate.
10) Untwist the sieve gently (it’s hot and messy) and put it on the other plate. The sieve will contain bean pulp called okara.
10) Your milk will be ready in the base with a layer of foam/froth on top and can be drunk/used hot or cooled. To cool I pour it into a pot as the base keeps the heat in. The very bottom of the milk is heavier and creamy, it’s also a type of pulp so tastes grainy but don’t worry about it, it has lot’s of uses and can be separated by using the ladle to take off the milk or sieving the whole lot with a sieve over a pot (I just use the ladle).
When I first started using this it was trial and error getting milk we both found desirable. The instructions state to use 100g soy beans and either 800ml or 1500ml water. However I found that the 800ml mark didn’t really reach the beans in the sieve and they need to touch the water to soften, heat properly and mix with the water to make milk so the results would be thin and watery. The same happened at the 1500ml mark though the results were less watery – I guess that option is better for people who like semi-skimmed style milk. I found this to be a common issue online for many milk maker users and it was quite offputting especially as people in general have a habit of comparing shop bought to homemade foods and thinking they should be the same.
I went against the instructions and used the 1700ml mark and have found that perfect for our needs; not only is there more milk but it’s thicker, consistent and we find it better for taste and food prep/recipes. We’ve also found that 80g of soy bean instead of 100g makes the milk smoother so that’s a saving too.
Homemade milk differs from shop bought in that its ‘heartier’ /more ‘robust’ umm basically not as processed so it’s not smooth as silk and doesn’t have vitamins/minerals, sugar or oil added. Depending on the brand the level of Whiteness and thickness varies too; homemade looks Cream coloured and the vitamins/minerals aren’t as filtered out plus you have the okara and ‘thick bit’ with all the nutrition leftover. Depending on one’s tastes sugar can be added; to drink I like it with date syrup best or some other kind of fruit syrup (no refined White sugar included), liquorice, or molasses or muscovado best out of the unrefined sugars but demerara is nice too. (Many people use stevia plant.)
The same steps are applicable to other milk source ingredients but the amounts of source ingredient vary so experimentation is necessary to find your preferences. For example I’ve tried a bunch of different beans and bean combinations but have found soya to be the most effective and have the most uses (our Asian ancestors and friends have been making the most out of them for ages so had longer to figure that out well before my 31 years ;-) ). Nuts are a lot better suited in that every type I’ve used blended and came out well and I use 1 full use of the given container/cup maximum; interestingly enough my almond milk is Pink whereas all the shop bought ones I tried were White (perhaps a different type is used as standard or its due to processing). My personal favourite is coconut of which I use 3 cups since it’s lighter and that’s the most the grinder will manage efficiently. I love coconut milk because I automatically make it into hot chocolate with raw cacao powder and date syrup *dreamy*! (Most health based chocolate is dark which given the masses of mainstream chocolate has become an acquired taste but coconut milk has the propensity to hold a lot of chocolate really well and comes out velvety smooth, rich and/or sweet depending on one’s sweetening preferences dark, extra dark or milky.)
Any of these homemade milks blend texturally with the usual drinks hot or cold or foods like cereal in the way animal milk does whereas many shop bought milks tend to have different mixing steps depending on the brand otherwise they can separate, turn into curds or simply “look/taste funny”. That’s not to say they aren’t helpful or delicious but a little experimenting can be necessary to find the right method and many people tend to give up on the whole idea after a failed attempt. Perhaps that’s why I’ve noticed the major brands have now formulated their products to be very consistent and mimic ‘normal milk’ to prevent people being put off by any extra effort or doing something different. Heck many even taste the same box to box per brand product from what I’ve recently sampled which to me says they’re not as natural as they should be and that applies to any food be it fruit, veg or spice. Not every batch will be the same in shade of colour, texture or intensity if minimally processed and taking into account growth/environmental conditions but that’s commercial standards for insurance, ‘quality assurance’ and guarantees.
The sieve in not necessary for soups as the ingredients go straight into the base. Depending on the desired consistency button/Option 1 can be used for medium grinding (5 times), Option 2 for full (7 times) and Option 3 for gentle stirring (where you want a very liquidy soup just to be heated and evenly spread).
The recipes given in the manual are Eastern Asian in style using a cup of rice and chopped veg and water to make a broth style soup. They recommend the 800ml marking but I find that’s not enough for rice or for soup in general unless you want one portion and know the exact quantities of ingredients to prevent risking it coming out too thick/dry, the 1500ml mark is generally better.
When it comes to soup making with the maker I’m a lot more liberal with quantities. Why? When I use the maker the soup comes out great to fantastic regardless as long as I use the 1700ml mark. Hand on heart I have not made 1 ‘bad’ soup with it and it’s always well blended – the smoothness depends on the ingredients – but mixed in a delicious way and that’s also regardless of how many herbs and spice I use (I tend to be quite heavy handed with those in comparison to alot of Western cooking but can use less and love Mediterranean food which I find is medium to rich in herbs/spice).
Nowadays I only use pots for stew making because the maker can make any traditional veg/fruit soup or combination of random fruit/veg really well. For example tomato soup comes out richer and smoother than I manage in a pot or some random mix like sweet potato, leek, celery, coconut cream, water, fresh coriander or dill with olive or sunflower oil and cayenne, Black pepper and a dash of curry powder and the results will be well received. Or my personal favourites (great for cold weather) warm/sweet and spicy Red apple soup (Red apples, a Red bell pepper, paprika, cayenne, garam masala or cinnamon/cardamom/Black pepper and/or ginger, a complimentary oil like grapeseed, possibly some dried fruit and water or milk) or Sweet/tangy Green apple soup (Green apples, Green bell pepper, mint, liquorice, perhaps a touch of unrefined sugar, cinnamon and/or nutmeg, complimentary oil like safflower and water/milk).
Regardless of the soup you make, bear in mind the grinder has to be able to grind without too much effort so there has to be enough liquid in place to heat and blend with, either or both water/milk.
Also note that even though the maker isn’t hot to the touch from the outside it is hot on the inside; I made liquidy soups (the type easily drunk out of a mug rather than eaten with a spoon) a couple of times and I burnt the heating element in a couple of places where tomatoes (tinned, whereas never had a problem with fresh) stuck to it. I’m also reticent to use it at the hottest times of day in hot weather because the room temperature adds to the cooking temperature.
This is a major pulling factor for many soymilk maker buyers as silken and firm tofu are very versatile and a staple ingredient for many alternative diets/lifestyles, plus buying little blocks of the stuff is more expensive than buying milk. I noted a number or families having two makers to make enough tofu weekly. However tofu making is very labour and water intensive and a hot, slow process hence the prices and why even many Asians in Asia used to and still buy it rather than make it. It’s also cheaper than meat in a lot of places there so many have it as an alternative but it is appreciated for its own qualities; basically it’s not just or mainly consumed by ‘special dieters’. Many a supermarket in East Asia will have shelves of various types, rather than the single product from a brand or two here.
Note – silken tofu is generally better for soft food items like shakes, desserts/pudding or ‘cheeze’. Some people in the West put non-vegans off for example by serving up silken tofu in a lump who end up developing a mental resistance to tofu in general (yes Come Dine With Me I’m looking at you – it’s bad enough many people thinking of ‘vegan friendly’ food as ‘food for vegans’ rather than food mostly everyone can eat and vegans being the ones not able to eat what others do, and that a lot of food is already vegan without being labelled as such). Silken tofu as part of a savoury or main meal is an acquired taste and needs knowledge/practice to pull off e.g. finding it in main dishes will usually mean being in a veggie friendly Chinese restaurant.
Steps for making firm tofu:
1) Follow the steps for the soy milk making above. Only, use Option 1 for tofu grinding (it will grind 5 times instead of 7) and do it 3-4 times. Yep, 3-4 times. Have a big pot ready (as well as clear workspace and time.)
The reason for less grinding is that you don’t want milk for this, you need soy infused water.
2) Each time the maker completes a round on Option 1, pour the soy water into your big pot which needs to be kept on the cooker and at the heat it left the maker. Alternatively since the water is hot and not likely to cool soon, wait ‘til you’ve finished all the rounds and then heat up the pot to just under boiling – it needs to steam but not boil.
Each time the maker finishes a round you can put aside the okara for other uses.
3) Once you’ve got 3-4 lots of soy water and it’s being heat maintained on the cooker, add 1 sachet of Nigari salt per round so 3-4 sachets. There’s actually only a tiny bit of salt in each sachet which I’d liken to a ‘pinch’. Stir gently and the water will curdle/separate – those curds are the tofu hence the name bean curd.
Why Nigari? Nigari is traditionally used for tofu making, however it is a specialized item not easily available on the highstreet. It’s magnesium chloride, a coagulant from sea salt. Different salts make different textures, degrees of firmness and taste. For firm tofu Nigari or Gypsum (calcium sulphate) tend to work best though Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) and Himalayan salt work nicely too. Some people use vinegar or lemon juice. For jelly style and silken tofus a mixture of coagulants (and/or gums like agar agar) can be used.
4) Catching the tofu curds. Have some muslin ready in a bigger sieve over another pot near the sink. (You’ll notice from the photos that the muslin given is still new, that’s because I use a bigger sheet that I can squeeze and twist.) Using the handheld sieve given scoop up the floating curds and put them on the muslin, this is not easy. I use a combination of sieves and stop in between to stir, I also add the salt in between scooping instead of in one go at the beginning.
5) Once you’ve taken out as much of the curd as you can, turn the cooker off and leave it to cool. The leftover makes excellent cooking water and some people use it as plant feed. Turn your attention to the curd mound on the muslin.
6) Now this is where the muscle workout starts, unless you have a tofu press, which I don’t. Wrap the muslin as tightly as possible around the curd and squeeze out as much water as possible. I’ve hand washed my clothes/fabrics for most of my life so I’m used to wringing but for many this will take a few goes (obviously try not to rip the cloth ;-) ). It doesn’t have to be totally waterless/dried just enough to set and firm.
7) Loosen the muslin a bit, enough to flatten and shape the curd, and wrap it again. Put something weighty like exercise weights, old fashioned kitchen weights or food tins on top of it. Obviously it’s best not to use a plate underneath the curd unless it’s strong, a tray or draining board is better. Leave for approx an hour.
8) Remove the weights and gently unwrap the muslin, there’ll likely be some curd stuck to it. The block inside is tofu, gently put it on a plate and leave in the fridge to fully set though it is edible fresh.
I find tofu made like this is lighter and somewhat fluffier in texture and taste than the well known shop brands here though there’s a couple that are very similar to homemade. It can also be more crumbly unless you add a bit of oil to it whilst setting. I’ve found the common theme in shop brands to be a sponge like texture with a very thin yet firm outer ‘layer’, not a crust but the outside exposed to air firms more and perhaps processed in some way that holds better in chunks and diced. Homemade is softer and so whilst it doesn’t hold in the same way when fried or in broth soups it is great in curries and thick soups.
I don’t use this for making tea but I have tried Option 3. It’s a bit long for making tea but helpful for strong teas that need slow, gradual heating/steeping to preserve as much nutrition as possible and bring out the flavour.
OTHER FOOD USES
In this section I’ll include most of the things I’ve used the milk, okara and ‘thick bit’ for.
Okara is a byproduct of the soymilk manufacturing process, consisting of the bland pulp which is left behind after pureed soybeans are passed through filters. It is extremely nutritious, sometimes more so than products like soymilk and tofu, and it can be used in a variety of ways. In Asian cuisine, okara is a not infrequent vegetarian ingredient, and interest in this ingredient has grown in the West. Most okara, however, is mixed into animal feed, since large amounts of it are generated in the soymilk making process.
When soybeans are turned into soymilk, they are soaked and pureed to form a slurry. The okara is the fibrous, insoluble part of the soybean left behind, and it is rich in calcium, iron, protein, fiber, and riboflavin. When fresh, okara is creamy white to yellow, and very pulpy. It can be dried at this point to turn it into a powder, or it may be cooked and frozen for future use. Fresh okara is not very shelf stable, and it needs to be used quickly.
There’s a ton of recipes using okara here from luscious desserts to macaroni cheese, I’ve even seen it used in dressing – http://okaraproject.blogspot.co.uk/
Whilst the maker has saved me money on for the above outlined foods it’s also meant I have an abundance of cream or ‘thick bit’ as we call it and the only difference in texture it has to the okara is that it’s creamier/more liquidy so they’re easily mixed together. As such I can use it for all manner of cooking from food thickening, enhancement and ease of re-heating instead of adding more water or milk in cake/bread making whether fried or baked, to an alternative White sauce. It also negates the use for specified egg replacers because when mixed with water/milk and oil it does the same thing and since I cook with bicarbonate of soda, various oils, coconut oil/cream/milk and sometimes if I’m lucky bananas I don’t need egg replacers for fluffiness/raising. For those that do want specific replacers regularly many use cashew cream or what’s known as a ‘flax egg’ – a spoonful of flax/linseed. When I really need extra stickiness depending on the nature of the recipe I use peanut butter, a sticky flour like chickpea or oat, garlic powder or then there’s guar gum in bread making.
Mum found this one by putting milk into a finished oil bottle that still had some sunflower oil in it and left it in the fridge. After a while she noticed it had turned to butter.
Mousse and blancmange:
I used to eat a fair amount of Alpro soya desserts which years ago were thought of as alternative yoghurts though they were/are far more mousse like and nowadays there’s a lot more available in the ‘soyage’ dessert/alternative yoghurt ranges that are actually yoghurt like. Interestingly enough Alpro also sell a ‘custard’ which is really their vanilla soya dessert in a bigger portion, it can be heated or left cool. I found that by heating the ‘thick bit’ and okara on a cooker and leaving it to cool then setting it in the fridge I can make richer and less gloopy/rubbery mousse and almost blancmange.
Chocolate mousse – I add some cacao powder and unrefined sugar to the ‘thick bit’/okara mix in a pot and heat to it a high heat, not boiling but hot enough to steam stirring gently continuously until it becomes glassy/mirror like. I then leave it cool before putting in the fridge and leaving it there for a few days until it solidifies enough that there’s no excess liquid.
Blancmange in texture (my style and not Pink) – I add a bit of milk, sugar and/or dried fruit like raisins and bake it at 180degreesF instead of heating it on the hob. Leave it to cool and again put it in the fridge for a few days.
This was a great discovery; mum and I had gone to the seaside and collected a bunch of fresh seaweed, washed it through (froze some) and made a 7 litre gorgeous spicy seaweed stew served with firm tofu and fried onion. However seaweed takes a long time to eat/finish and we were going away so wouldn’t finish it in time, taking a stew wasn’t exactly practical. So she mixed the remainder with some thick bit/okara we’d been saving up (ok I just hadn’t got round to using it) and put it in the oven. It turned into one of the best pies I’ve ever had, it was in traditional style as in quite heavy/dense and it even made its own crust! We sliced it, put it in a container, took it with us and I enjoyed that pie for days to come it didn’t lose taste or go hard/dry, my dinner was sorted.
Pancakes or French toast:
Pancakes need some kind of egg replacement as described above otherwise the sugar will caramelize and burn sticking the mixture to the pan. However if you’re got good hand/wrist skills like Mum does (I can’t flip or shape) and handle the mixture quickly it makes a scrummy style ‘French toast’ without the sticky/eggy additions.
A blender is needed for these, a strong blender for the ice cream unless you’re ok with waiting after putting the shake in the freezer. I generally make shakes with crushed ice, a banana and milk as the base with anything I have on hand as the topping be it cacao powder with sugar/syrup and peanut butter or fruit. The blending is tough if you don’t have a blender but you can manually crush the ice beforehand, then using a handheld mixer or spoon to beat it and then whisk. Many people who don’t like bananas use cashew nuts instead.
Coconut or nut pulp:
When making coconut milk I use coconut ‘chips’ which are shavings or large flakes and get leftover pulp which is desiccated coconut but soaked in milk so can be left to dry or used wet. We use both coconut and nut pulp in both savoury and sweet foods, they’re great for nutrition and bulking. Sometimes I leave them to dry and use them as toppings instead.
Coconut oil is expensive however homemade coconut milk like others has foam/froth on top but depending on the room temperature such as if it’s a hot day coconut oil will also form on top. Remember coconut oil can be made from heating coconut milk until it separates and in this form it’s honeycomb in appearance (like the way pure olive oil looks when cold) whereas usually it turns to liquid quickly when warm. This way it’s easily scooped off and has innumerable uses.
If left to dry okara and even ‘thick bit’ becomes floury which is helpful for adding to other flours (since you don’t get much) when making dishes. It can also be turned back into liquid like any flour can e.g. powdered milk but it lasts longer dried than wet since ‘thick bit’ and okara will go off after some days in the fridge unless cooked again.
This maker is quite finicky to clean due to the design, many makers are simply cleaned like blenders but here whilst the sieve can be put in the dishwasher if you have one, the rest has to be carefully cleaned and the parts are quite intricate. I use a scourer gently over the metal and have gotten used to the process/what to look for and how to handle and hold the weight of the head. Before that it was tricky getting all the food that gets underneath the blades, in the screws and all the nooks and crannies of the head and sieve. Also you have to be careful not to get any water inside the head, I’ve found it’s ok if water gets in the seal as it comes off but I dry it quickly and put it back on and use a damp cloth or tissue over the head. I used to wash it after every use but the more frequently we use it I tend to wash it every 2-3 uses. There were a few times when it refused to work until I washed it and that’s usually when the sieve or element has too much debris stuck to them. It’s intelligent that way “Eh Dolly, I know you believe in looking after and thanking your tools because they do so much good work for you but I could do with a bath you know” or “It’s bloody hot in here, I’ve made how much for your tofu. I’m hot enough to shorten my rounds and yet still able to produce what you want. I know, I’m wonderful, you don’t have to applaud, oh go on then.”
Steam and noise
It releases a short burst of steam before it starts to grind and then a lot of steam comes up when you lift the top from the base.
It’s noisy, not as loud as blenders I’ve used but still loud so it’s good that it grinds in short bursts and doesn’t need to do so for very long.
As described we’ve used the maker in numerous ways and frequently and I found after a year and a half cracks appeared on the top of the base, right underneath where the head sits. That worried me and I certainly didn’t want to them to grow so we started soaking the beans and not filling it up to squeezing point with non-liquid ingredients when soup making. Soaking the beans for the maker only requires an hour or two in comparison to general bean sprouting or cooking which can take anything from 8 hours to days. Thankfully no more cracks have appeared and it’s a lot more stable, at times before we used to hear the blades struggle to grind properly which was worrying.
Full specs are here: http://www.soylove.com/eng/subpage.php?p=m21
There are updated models on the market that are probably more streamlined with more functions maybe even faster but our one is beloved :-)
Advantages: Multi – Purpose, Efficient, Value for money, Fresh food with lots of possibilities .
Disadvantages: Heavy, Not so easy to clean .
All the pics in the gallery are of food I’ve made using milk, okara and ‘thick bit’ in and the recipes are in the Food & Recipes section of the blog :-)