What is Soybean?
Soybeans are the second most valued agricultural export of the U.S., second only to corn. It is one of the most prominent and widely consumed beans in the world, renowned for its high protein content.
Soybeans are legumes, specifically beans that are classified as oilseed by the FAO. Commonly considered to be native to East Asia, they are now grown and available for consumption around the world. The Chinese call soybean “large bean” or “yellow bean” whereas America has dubbed it the “miracle bean.”
Soybean is a very adaptable crop and can grow in different conditions, even surviving long periods of drought. The plants bear fruits (pods) that contain 2-4 seeds. Soybeans vary in sizes and colors and are usually is grown in rotation with corn.
Soybean grows best in hot climates with temperatures between 70 to 86 degrees. Temperatures significantly lower or higher than this range will harm the crop. They grow most rapidly in moist alluvial soils and take around 80-120 days to be harvested. Soybean is planted in the spring and harvested in August.
Interestingly enough, soybean can produce roughly twice as much protein per acre as any other major vegetable or grain, making it incredibly appealing to producers and health-minded consumers.
Soybean and its byproducts are widely used in many industries around the world.
Most of the soybean is grown for oil production and the defatted, high-protein, toasted soy meal left behind is used for livestock feed. Nearly 85% of all soybeans in the world is processed into soybean meal and soybean oil. It is soybean meal that has helped America grow farm animals on an industrial level. Toasted, defatted soymeal contains 50% of protein and is essential to feeding farm animals on a large scale. The largest consumers of soybean feed are the pork and poultry industries.
The oil extracted from soybean is sold as “vegetable oil” and used in a variety of processed foods. Soy vegetable oil, which comes from the soybean seeds, is commonly used for cooking too. A relatively small amount of soybean is used for consumption by humans.
Soybeans have gained popularity in modern food landscape because they can be processed in a way that their appearance is similar to meats. Soybean is used to create a product known as textured vegetable protein (TVP) that is used in place of meat products in many meal preparations. The soybean is packed with protein (and soybean oil), and is considered by many food authorities as a source of “complete protein” containing all essential amino acids needed by the human body. This is why soybeans are popular in the vegetarian diets—to make up for the lack of meat proteins.
In China, Japan and Korea, bean products like tofu soybean paste, miso, soy sauce and soy milk are all very popular as well. Soy milk is used to make tofu. Unripe soybean, called edamame, are popular as a snack and dish in Japan. Soy is also fermented into many edible products like soy sauce, bean paste and tempeh. Soy flour, made by roasting and grinding the soybean, is gluten free and contains 50% protein, which is used in many recipes. Soy-based instant formula is also given sometimes to babies who are allergic to cow milk.
Using heat extraction, soybean oil is also converted into biodiesel that is cleaner than traditional fossil fuels. Soybean oil accounts for 80% of the biodiesel produced within the U.S. Soybeans have many industrial applications as well—as ingredients in adhesives, lubricants, solvents, cleaners, fluids, paints, soaps, cosmetics, clothing, plastics etc.