Is Soy Milk Vegan? The Vegan’s Guide to Soy Milk

Soy milk is the standard-bearer for non-dairy beverages. Is it 100% vegan?

is soy milk vegan photo illustration

Treehugger / Joshua Seong

For years, soy milk has enjoyed its status as the standard-bearer for non-dairy beverages. Commercially available soy milk brands contain no animal ingredients, making soy milk a vegan favorite.

Learn how this ancient legume became a dairy replacement in your morning coffee, as well as the sustainability science surrounding soy in our vegan guide to soy milk.

Why Soy Milk Is Always Vegan

A versatile legume, soy is an edible bean native to East Asia. Also known as soybean, soya, or its Latin name Glycine max, soy serves as the primary protein source in the global food supply.

According to the USDA, the United States leads the world in soybean production and comes in second place as the world's largest exporter. Between 70-80% of that soy goes to feed livestock; the rest is turned into consumable goods like soy milk, edamame, tofu, tempeh, soy sauce, and soy oil. 

The most widely consumed non-dairy milk in the world, soy milk began humbly as the intermediate product of tofu manufacturing in 14th century China. This watery, bean-flavored beverage became a Chinese breakfast staple in the 19th century, around the same time that the term "soy-bean milk" appeared in the annals of the USDA.

By the last half of the 20th century, soy milk had spread in popularity throughout North America and Europe. Advancements in production gave the soy milk we drink today a texture and taste more similar to animal milk, cementing soy milk's place in plant-based eating.

Soy Milk and Sustainability

As the interest in plant-based eating has grown, so has soy production. Over the last two decades, soy consumption has doubled, consequently causing the unsustainable conversion of natural grasslands and forests into soybean fields, especially in South American and the Great Plains of the United States. A resource-intensive crop, soy requires large amounts of energy, water, and agricultural chemicals, which can cause soil erosion, degradation of natural vegetation, and changes to the water cycle.

In general, however, alternative milks use much less energy to produce than traditional dairy milk. Soy milk has a water footprint three times smaller than cow’s milk, and organic soybean cultivation can further reduce grey water waste by 98%. Still, nearly all soy grown in the United States uses glyphosate—an industrial herbicide formerly patented by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup.

How Soy Milk Is Made

Soy milk starts with water extracted from soaked, ground soybeans. After harvesting, the soybeans are de-hulled and steamed, then boiled under high pressure before being roughly ground. Hot water is added to the white slurry, and the beans are ground into even finer particles. The remaining solids (which will eventually become tofu or other soy products) are separated from the liquid.

The liquid is then mixed with sweeteners, flavors, and nutritional ingredients, including calcium and Vitamin D, to mimic cow’s milk. This raw soy milk is then sterilized and homogenized before being packed in airtight containers for public consumption. Shelf-stable, refrigerated, and powdered soy milk are all widely available for purchase at grocery stores worldwide.

Did You Know?

As discussions of the circular economy gain more mainstream traction, researchers and farmers alike are looking to wastewater for upcycling possibilities. The water by-product of soy foods is rich in protein, minerals, bioactive plant nutrients, and simple sugars. These qualities provide the potential for soy wastewater to become a texturizer (emulsifier and thickener) for new beverage development.

Soy Milk Brands

When shopping for soy milk, here are some popular brands to look for that carry all-vegan soy milks:

  • PEARL (Kikkoman USA)
  • Silk
  • Pacific Foods
  • Wholesome Pantry
  • Vitasoy
  • EdenSoy
  • Nature's Promise
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is soy milk a vegan product?

    Yes! Soy milk may contain other ingredients besides soy and water, but these too are vegan.

  • Can you have soy if you are vegan?

    Yes, you can. Soy comes from a plant (the soybean), and therefore soy milk and other soy products like tofu and tempeh fit perfectly well in a vegan diet.

  • Can you drink soy milk on a plant-based diet?

    Yes, you can. Soy milk is a vegan-friendly beverage made from the water of soaked, ground legumes—all of which meet the requirements for plant-based eating.

  • What milk do vegans drink?

    Vegans can drink a variety of plant-based milks including soy, almond, cashew, rice, oat, flax, hemp, and coconut milk.

  • Is soya vegan?

    Soya is another name for soy common in the U.K. Like most soy products, soya is indeed vegan. However, soy (often in the form of soy lecithin in processed foods) can be included in food products that are not vegan.