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WASHINGTON, Feb 10, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- After an examination of recent news, it would be easy to argue that food makes you sick.
There are the reports of BSE -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow -- infecting the U.S. beef supply. Then there's salmon filled with mercury, not to mention Asian chickens with the flu. Europeans and Southeast Asians are worried about consuming genetically modified anything. And apparently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently looking into whether all cheese should be made with pasteurized milk to destroy E. coli, salmonella, or listeria; depending on which department endeavoring to protect our health you talk to.
So what can we eat?
Between 1998 and 2003, the consumption of vegetarian food in the United States developed into a $1.6 million market, growing at constant prices by 113 percent. Since family-brand companies like Kraft, General Mills and Kellogg's have joined the vegetarian food products market, buyers have burgeoned beyond the traditional health food store customer, and the vegetarian image is no longer hippy-dippy. With their immense resources in product development, distribution and marketing, those wealthy conglomerates have been able to boost sales in mainstream supermarkets.
But alongside the packaged vegetarian food market, there's also a huge increase in the sale of soy protein products. Tofu's day has come.
Fears of an invasion of our market by Chinese soybeans can be set to rest at once. It is the other way around. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported planned exports of soybeans to China of 1.15 million metric tons during the 2003-4 marketing year, which began on Sept. 1, 2003. For the 2004-5 marketing year, the USDA estimates exports of 692,000 tons.
But you'd better grab that sack of oh-so-fashionable edamame -- the delectable Japanese snack of boiled and salted soybeans in their pods -- before their price soars. The Asian bird flu epidemic has meant a huge cull of chickens in China. A senior Alaron Trading analyst reported on Resource News International via COMTEX Tuesday that if the Chinese seriously alter their eating habits as a result of the flu, there will be less demand for feed and soybean prices will weaken.
Use of soybeans in China is recorded as far back as 3,000 years ago. The soybean crop was extremely important to the people of the Chou Dynasty (1122-221 B.C.), and it was they who originated soy sauce. Tofu, legend has it, was invented by greedy feudal lord Lu An during the reign of the Hsiao-wen emperor of the Western Han Dynasty, which ran from 206 B.C. to 8 A.D. Taste for the pale custard-like brick spread quickly, and by the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D), tofu was popular all over the Orient, from China to Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia.
Tofu is made from congealed soybean milk pressed into a mold to extract the water. In ancient times, the Chinese added gypsum to speed up the process. (Today's tofu detractors will smirk.) Before the automated process in use now, tofu sellers worked overnight from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. to produce fresh tofu for the breakfast market.
If the Chinese are right, soybeans might also begin to replace sleeping pills as a cure for insomnia. For centuries they have been soaking soybeans for hours until soft, liquefying them in a blender and then boiling them, stirring all the while to stop them from sticking to the pan, until they form a smooth milk. The resulting "touchiang" is then drunk before bedtime, flavored with salt or sugar, to help achieve a good night's sleep, or at breakfast to keep the mind clear and the spirits high. It is an unusual product that the Chinese claim can produce what appear to be contradictory effects. Curious Americans can pop down to their supermarket and buy the milk ready-made in packages.
According to Liao Yung-hung, a Taiwanese pharmacist engaged in soybean research, the human body can absorb as much as 95 percent of the soybean's nutritional content, a claim you couldn't make for the hamburger, a bucket of chicken or a piece of fish.
Copyright 2004 by United Press International.