North Korea orphanages
First Steps photo/Rachelyn Ritchie

Two children who live at the South Pyongan Provincial Kindergarten Orphanage in DRPK, whose names are withheld for security reasons, enjoy some soy milk. 

Following a trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea, Jennifer Deibert started making and drinking soy milk.

Deibert lives in Chuncheon, South Korea, and serves as the North Korea program coordinator with MCC. In early March, she joined a group of MCC staff and service workers on a trip to visit a soy milk factory in Pyongsong as well as four orphanages in the area that benefit from the milk it produces.

For the last five years, MCC has been sending high-quality, non-GMO soybeans to the Pyongsong Children’s Foodstuffs Factory. As a result, more than 800 children have access to protein-rich soy milk, tofu and toasted soybeans. MCC also sends canned meat to these orphanages.

Many people in DRPK struggle to get enough to eat. It’s a highly mountainous country with only about 18 per cent arable land. The country faces frequent flooding and damage to homes, bridges and other infrastructure from seasonal typhoons. Because of these factors, access to protein sources is quite rare in North Korea and children are susceptible to stunted growth caused by inadequate nutrition. 

Drinking soy milk in North Korea

Soybeans from MCC!
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According to orphanage directors, children who drink soy milk regularly show marked improvement in energy, skin condition and are growing well.

After Deibert returned home, she got to thinking about the children she met on the trip and the milk that sustains them.

A very enthusiastic young boy from the South Pyongan Provincial Kindergarten Orphanage enjoys a snack of bread and soy milk. His name is withheld for security reasons. First Steps photo/Rachelyn Ritchie

“I was thinking of the children and thinking of how they enjoyed it every day, so I started to make (my own soy milk) to understand what our colleagues in North Korea were providing for the children and the process they might go through on a larger scale,” she explains.

You can make soy milk yourself at home! Here’s what you need:

Ingredients

Dried soybeans

Water

Sugar to taste

A pinch of salt

A blender

Cheesecloth

Instructions

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

Start by soaking the soybeans in about three times as much water as is needed to fully cover the beans. Soak the beans for at least eight hours, but ideally 12 hours.

At the Children’s Foodstuffs Factory supported by MCC, the beans begin soaking in the early morning. Making the soy milk at night ensures the children have fresh, delicious soy milk the next day.

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

After the beans have soaked, drain the water and measure. For one cup of soaked beans use about three cups of water.

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

Place the beans and half of the total water into a blender.

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

Blend the beans and water. It will begin to look foamy and smell organic, like grass. The mixture will be grainy and thick, depending on the amount of water added. 

While Deibert uses a blender to make her soy milk, the Pyongsong factory doesn’t. For producing large quantities of soy milk, a grinding stone is used to break up the beans and release the milk.

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

MCC photo/Jennifer DeibertNext, it’s time to separate the liquid from the pulpy part of the soybean. Deibert uses a tea towel she’s dedicated to making soy milk. Pour the remaining water into the blended soybean mixture.

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert
Squeeze excess liquid out of the pulpy residue. 

Tip: Don’t throw away the pulpy residue! The by-product of soy milk has many uses. It is packed full of nutrients and, once cooked a bit, has very little taste. Deibert dries it out in a skillet and adds it to smoothies, soups — just about anything. One of her favorite Korean dishes is kongbiji, a spicy, comforting soup made with kimchi and biji, the by-product of soy milk.

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

Biji has the texture of a coarse meal. Since most soy products ferment or rot very quickly, Deibert freezes it right away. The pulpy residue is also an excellent addition to compost and is used in traditional farming practices in some northeast Asian countries as a natural source of nitrogen.

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

Heat the soy milk over low heat until it simmers. Allow to simmer for a few minutes. While the mixture is heating, add sugar (or your favorite sweetener) to taste and a pinch of salt. 

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

Pour immediately into sterilized jars and store in the refrigerator or serve directly. Deibert says hot soy milk is both comforting and delicious! 

MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

Aside from the health benefits of soy milk, Deibert drinks the milk as a way to stand in solidarity with the young children living in the North Korean orphanages.

“It helped me to feel some kind of connection, because we can’t talk or communicate when I’m not in the country so it helped me feel connected to them,” she explains.

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