Though technically a seed, Soy beans are also considered a culinary nut, as is the peanut and may be eaten as such. Many people experience allergic reactions to soy.
Soybean is a nutritious and versatile legume that is used to make a variety of products such as tofu, milk, and soy sauce. Soybeans range in size from as small as a pea to as large as a cherry. Soybean pods are covered with a fine fuzz and range in color from tan to black while the beans themselves, can come in a variety of colors from red, yellow or black.
The soybean (US) or soya bean (UK) (Glycine max) is a species of legume native to East Asia, widely grown for its edible bean which has numerous uses. The plant is classed as an oilseed rather than a pulse by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Fat-free (defatted) soybean meal is a significant and cheap source of protein for animal feeds and many prepackaged meals; soy vegetable oil is another product of processing the soybean crop. For example, soybean products such as textured vegetable protein (TVP) are ingredients in many meat and dairy analogues. Soybeans produce significantly more protein per acre than most other uses of land.
Traditional nonfermented food uses of soybeans include soy milk, and from the latter tofu and tofu skin. Fermented foods include soy sauce, fermented bean paste, natto, and tempeh, among others. The oil is used in many industrial applications. The main producers of soy are the United States (35%), Brazil (27%), Argentina (19%), China (6%) and India (4%). The beans contain significant amounts of phytic acid, alpha-linolenic acid, and isoflavones.
Presoaked soybeans can be added to stews, soups, casseroles. They can also be sprouted and used in salads. Their flavor is bland but they are high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Soybean byproducts are used in making margarine, as emulsifiers in many processed foods, and in non-food items such as soaps and plastics. Fresh soybeans are generally not available except in Asian markets or specialty produce markets. Dried soybeans and a variety of soybean products are available in supermarkets and health-food stores.
Approximately 85% of the world’s soybean crop is processed into soybean meal and vegetable oil. Soybeans can be broadly classified as “vegetable” (garden) or field (oil) types. Vegetable types cook more easily, have a mild, nutty flavor, better texture, are larger in size, higher in protein, and lower in oil than field types. Tofu and soy milk producers prefer the higher protein cultivars bred from vegetable soybeans originally brought to the United States in the late 1930s. The “garden” cultivars are generally not suitable for mechanical combine harvesting because there is a tendency for the pods to shatter upon reaching maturity.
Among the legumes, the soybean, also classed as an oilseed, is preeminent for its high (38–45%) protein content as well as its high (approximately 20%) oil content. Soybeans are the second-most valuable agricultural export in the United States behind corn. The bulk of the soybean crop is grown for oil production, with the high-protein defatted and “toasted” soy meal used as livestock feed. A smaller percentage of soybeans are used directly for human consumption.
Immature soybeans may be boiled whole in their green pods and served with salt, under the Japanese name edamame (edamame). In English, these soybeans are generally known as “edamame” or “green vegetable soybeans”.
In China, Japan, and Korea, the bean and products made from it are a popular part of the diet. The Chinese invented tofu (dòufu), and also made use of several varieties of soybean paste as seasonings. Japanese foods made from soya include miso, nattō, kinako and edamame. Also many kinds of food are produced using tofu such as atsuage, aburaage, and so on. In Korean cuisine, soybean sprouts, called kongnamul, are also used in a variety of dishes, and are also the base ingredient in doenjang, cheonggukjang and ganjang. In Vietnam, soybeans are used to make soybean paste- tương in the North with the most popular products are tương Bần, tương Nam Đàn, tương Cự Đà as a garnish for phở and gỏi cuốn dishes, tofu (đậu hũ or đậu phụ or tàu hũ), soya sauce (nước tương, literally: soya water), soya milk (nước đậu in the North or sữa đậu nành in the South), and đậu hũ nước đường (tofu sweet soup).
The beans can be processed in a variety of ways. Common forms of soy (or soya) include soy meal, soy flour, soy milk, tofu, textured vegetable protein (TVP, which is made into a wide variety of vegetarian foods, some of them intended to imitate meat), tempeh, soy lecithin and soybean oil. Soybeans are also the primary ingredient involved in the production of soy sauce (shoyu).
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is among the largest processors of soybeans and soy products. ADM, along with Dow Chemical Company, DuPont and Monsanto Company, support the industry trade associations United Soybean Board and Soyfoods Association of North America. These trade associations have increased the consumption of soy products dramatically in recent years.