Many people are choosing to eat less meat in an effort to improve their health, slow climate change, and reduce animal suffering. But with so many new meat alternatives on the market, it can be difficult to know how they compare in terms of nutrition.
Soy curls are becoming increasingly popular as a plant-based, vegan alternative to meat, but are they a healthy choice?
In this post, I’ll discuss the health benefits of soy curls and practical tips for including them in your diet.
What are soy curls?
Soy curls are a legume-based meat alternative made from whole soybeans. They are exclusively manufactured by Butler Foods using a proprietary production method. The basic steps include soaking, boiling, shaping, and drying the soybeans at a low temperature to give them their meat-like shape and texture.
You can think about soy curls as soybeans which have been slightly processed to give them a shape and texture that more closely mimics meat.
Butler soy curls contain the whole soybean, meaning that no components of the soybean are removed. This is different from more highly processed products like textured vegetable protein, which has had the natural fats present in the soybeans removed.
Are soy curls healthy?
Soy curls are a nutritious meat alternative made using whole soybeans. They are high in plant-based protein, fiber, and anti-inflammatory isoflavones, provide moderate amounts of heart-healthy unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and contain small amounts of calcium, iron, and potassium. They are low in saturated fat and sodium and are vegan and gluten-free.
Since soy curls contain the whole soybean, they are compliant with a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet.
According to the nutrition facts label on a package of soy curls, 1 serving (¾ cup dry) contains:
- Calories: 120
- Protein: 11 g
- Fat: 5 g (1g saturated)
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 0 mg
- Carbohydrates: 8 g
- Dietary fiber: 6 g
- Added sugars: 0 g
- Vitamin D: 0 mcg
- Calcium: 46 mg
- Iron: 2 mg
- Potassium: 516 mg
Soy curls are a great source of plant-based protein, which has impressive benefits for heart health. Plant-based protein has been linked to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and apolipoprotein B1, a marker for increased heart disease risk, when used in place of animal protein. Soy is also a “complete protein”, meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids in optimal amounts for the human body.
Including a good source of protein in plant-based meals can help you stay fuller longer after eating, minimize excessive blood sugar spikes, and feel energized throughout the day.
Soy curls may also help your immune system function at its best thanks to the high fiber content. One serving of soy curls provides about 20% of your daily fiber needs! Fiber acts as a prebiotic, helping the beneficial bacteria in your gut to flourish and, in turn, support a healthy immune system. Fiber also helps reduce the risk of chronic disease like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
I reached out to Butler Foods and they confirmed that soy curls retain the natural isoflavones present in whole soybeans. Isoflavones are compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and are found in foods like soy, chickpeas, and flax seeds. They have been shown2 to reduce bone mineral density loss in the spine, to reduce the risk of developing or dying from breast cancer, and may help reduce hot flashes during menopause.
Overall, soy foods provide an array of health benefits and make a great addition to plant-based diets. Of course, people with soy allergies should avoid eating soy curls.
Debunking common health concerns about soy
Estrogen & effects on testosterone
A common concern about soy I hear often is that soy should be avoided because of its high estrogen content and its potential to cause hormone-related cancers. Good news – this is just a myth. The scientific evidence does not support the claim that soy causes cancer.
Soy does contain compounds called “phytoestrogens” or “isoflavones”, which are similar in structure to the mammalian estrogen produced by our bodies but which can have weakly estrogenic or anti-estrogenic effects depending on the part of the body. It’s these anti-estrogenic effects that may help reduce the risk of some cancers.
Does soy lower testosterone levels in men? This is another myth unsupported by scientific evidence. Eating soy foods, soy protein, and isoflavone extracts has no effect3 on testosterone, estrogen, or sex hormone binding globulin levels, the latter of which can help identify low levels of testosterone.
Genetic engineering and glyphosate
While most soy grown in the US is genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, GMO soybeans are most often used as crops to feed livestock and to make soybean oil and are used less often for soy foods.
Butler Foods states that their soy curls are non-GMO, meaning that they aren’t sprayed with glyphosate. If you prefer to avoid genetically engineered foods, there’s no need to avoid soy curls. Soy curls don’t have the USDA Organic certification, but Butler Foods states that their soybeans are not sprayed with any chemical pesticides.
A more recent concern about soy is its phytic acid content. Phytic acid4 is a molecule found in many plant foods, such as whole grains, soy, nuts, and some vegetables, which attaches to various minerals in these foods and prevents the body from absorbing them as efficiently.
Because of this, there has been a slew of influencers and popular book authors discouraging people from eating soy and other healthful plant-based foods.
So do we need to avoid foods that contain phytic acid? The consensus of experts is a resounding “no”. We see many health benefits and lower rates of chronic diseases with high consumption of plant-based foods despite their phytic acid content, so removing them from the diet isn’t recommended.
Phytic acid is notably decreased when foods are soaked, fermented, sprouted, or cooked, as soy products and other beans generally are. Soy curls are soaked and heated during the production process, so phytic acid shouldn’t be a concern.
Trypsin inhibitors are another type of “anti-nutrient” molecule present in soybeans which prevents the body from digesting and absorbing protein as efficiently. Similar to the issue of phytic acid, however, trypsin inhibitors are easily inactivated by heating soybeans.
This has actually been tested5 – boiling soybeans for 9 minutes, roasting for 2 minutes, cooking for 7-30 minutes, and microwaving for 3 minutes all inactivate most of the trypsin inhibitors. Considering this, soy curls don’t pose much of a concern for trypsin inhibitors – especially considering the additional exposure to heat when cooked in a recipe.
How to cook with soy curls
Soy curls have a mild, neutral taste on their own. Like tofu, this means that they’ll take on the flavor of whatever seasonings or sauces you cook them in. Butler Foods recommends preparing soy curls in the following way:
- Soak the soy curls in warm water for 8-10 minutes. Personally, I like to soak them in no-beef or no-chicken broth to infuse them with extra flavor from the beginning!
- Drain the excess water. In addition to using a colander or strainer, I also recommend squeezing excess water/broth out with your hands to help the soy curls brown better when sauteing them. You can reuse the broth in a sauce or to deglaze the pan later.
- Season soy curls with your favorite meaty seasoning. I like to use poultry seasoning for recipes that call for chicken-style meat alternatives and a mix of paprika, garlic powder, and fennel powder for a “beefier” flavor.
- Brown in a skillet. If you prefer to cook without oil, you can add a little broth or water as you cook to deglaze the pan and keep the soy curls from sticking.
I also love to add a flavorful sauce after I’ve browned my soy curls. My favorite ones to use are teriyaki sauce, BBQ sauce, and “orange chicken” sauce. They also go great in fajitas (my favorite), stews, curries, and chili!
You don’t need to keep them whole, either – simply use a food processor or chef’s knife to chop them into smaller pieces as a substitute for ground beef. There are often smaller bits at the bottom of each bag which work well in place of ground beef – no need to throw these away.
Where can I buy soy curls?
You can either buy soy curls directly from the Butler Foods website or from Amazon. Specialty grocery stores, health food stores, and restaurants that cater to vegans and vegetarians sometimes carry them as well. One benefit of ordering directly from Butler Foods is that you can purchase an incredible 12-pound box of bulk soy curls, a great option if you cook with them frequently and have plenty of storage space!
Pro tip – if you buy soy curls in bulk, separate them into individual portions needed for your recipes and store them in the freezer until needed. Some people have noticed that leaving them at room temperature for too long, especially past the “use by” date, causes a rancid-like smell, which freezing will prevent.
Soy curls are a nutritious meat alternative that contains the whole soybean and fits well into a vegan or whole food plant-based eating pattern. They are convenient and easy to prepare, making them a great pantry or freezer staple for people who want to include more plant-based protein in their diet.
Their versatility makes them a great addition to many dishes, and their pleasant meat-like texture is sure to please any omnivore relatives and friends that stop by for dinner!
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- Li SS, Blanco Mejia S, Lytvyn L, Stewart SE, Viguiliouk E, Ha V, de Souza RJ, Leiter LA, Kendall CWC, Jenkins DJA, Sievenpiper JL. Effect of Plant Protein on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017 Dec 20;6(12):e006659. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.117.006659. PMID: 29263032; PMCID: PMC5779002.
- Gómez-Zorita S, González-Arceo M, Fernández-Quintela A, Eseberri I, Trepiana J, Portillo MP. Scientific Evidence Supporting the Beneficial Effects of Isoflavones on Human Health. Nutrients. 2020 Dec 17;12(12):3853. doi: 10.3390/nu12123853. PMID: 33348600; PMCID: PMC7766685.
- Reed KE, Camargo J, Hamilton-Reeves J, Kurzer M, Messina M. Neither soy nor isoflavone intake affects male reproductive hormones: An expanded and updated meta-analysis of clinical studies. Reprod Toxicol. 2021 Mar;100:60-67. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2020.12.019. Epub 2020 Dec 28. PMID: 33383165.
- Brouns F. Phytic Acid and Whole Grains for Health Controversy. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 22;14(1):25. doi: 10.3390/nu14010025. PMID: 35010899; PMCID: PMC8746346.
- Avilés-Gaxiola S, Chuck-Hernández C, Serna Saldívar SO. Inactivation Methods of Trypsin Inhibitor in Legumes: A Review. J Food Sci. 2018 Jan;83(1):17-29. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.13985. Epub 2017 Dec 6. PMID: 29210451.