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For other uses of "Soybean" see Soybean
For other uses of "Soybean" see Soybean
"For other uses, see Soy.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
Genus: Glycine
Species: G. max
Binomial name
Glycine max
(L.) Merr.
  • Dolichos soja L.
  • Glycine angustifolia Miq.
  • Glycine gracilis Skvortsov
  • Glycine hispida (Moench) Maxim.
  • Glycine soja sensu auct.
  • Phaseolus max L.
  • Soja angustifolia Miq.
  • Soja hispida Moench
  • Soja japonica Savi
  • Soja max (L.) Piper
  • Soja soja H.Karst.
  • Soja viridis Savi

The soybean (US) or soya bean (UK) (Glycine max)[2] 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.[3] Soybeans produce significantly more protein per acre than most other uses of land.[4]

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%).[5][6] The beans contain significant amounts of phytic acid, alpha-linolenic acid, and isoflavones.


The plant is sometimes referred to as greater bean (大豆 – Chinese dàdòu and Japanese daizu) or yellow bean (黄豆 - Chinese huangdou). Both the immature soybean and its dish are called edamame in Japan,[7][8] but in English, edamame refers only to a specific dish.[cn] The genus name, Glycine, is the same as a simple amino acid.


Varieties of soybeans are used for many purposes.

The genus name Glycine was originally introduced by Carl Linnaeus (1737) in his first edition of Genera Plantarum. The word glycine is derived from the Greek – glykys (sweet) and likely refers to the sweetness of the pear-shaped (apios in Greek) edible tubers produced by the native North American twining or climbing herbaceous yambean legume, Glycine apios, now known as Apios americana. The cultivated soybean first appeared in Species Plantarum, by Linnaeus, under the name Phaseolus max L. The combination Glycine max (L.) Merr., as proposed by Merrill in 1917, has become the valid name for this useful plant.

The genus Glycine Willd. is divided into two subgenera, Glycine and Soja. The subgenus Soja (Moench) F.J. Herm. includes the cultivated soybean, Glycine max (L.) Merr., and the wild soybean, Glycine soja Sieb. & Zucc. Both species are annuals. Glycine soja is the wild ancestor of Glycine max, and grows wild in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Russia.[9] The subgenus Glycine consists of at least 25 wild perennial species: for example, Glycine canescens F.J. Herm. and G. tomentella Hayata, both found in Australia and Papua New Guinea.[10][11]

Like some other crops of long domestication, the relationship of the modern soybean to wild-growing species can no longer be traced with any degree of certainty. It is a cultural variety with a very large number of cultivars.

Description and physical characteristics

Soy varies in growth and habit. The height of the plant varies from less than 0.2 to 2.0 m (0.66 to 6.56 ft).

The pods, stems, and leaves are covered with fine brown or gray hairs. The leaves are trifoliolate, having three to four leaflets per leaf, and the leaflets are 6–15 cm (2.4–5.9 in) long and 2–7 cm (0.79–2.76 in) broad. The leaves fall before the seeds are mature. The inconspicuous, self-fertile flowers are borne in the axil of the leaf and are white, pink or purple.

Small, purple soybean flowers

The fruit is a hairy pod that grows in clusters of three to five, each pod is 3–8 cm long (1–3 in) and usually contains two to four (rarely more) seeds 5–11 mm in diameter.

Soybeans occur in various sizes, and in many hull or seed coat colors, including black, brown, blue, yellow, green and mottled. The hull of the mature bean is hard, water-resistant, and protects the cotyledon and hypocotyl (or "germ") from damage. If the seed coat is cracked, the seed will not germinate. The scar, visible on the seed coat, is called the hilum (colors include black, brown, buff, gray and yellow) and at one end of the hilum is the micropyle, or small opening in the seed coat which can allow the absorption of water for sprouting.

Remarkably, seeds such as soybeans containing very high levels of protein can undergo desiccation, yet survive and revive after water absorption. A. Carl Leopold, son of Aldo Leopold, began studying this capability at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University in the mid-1980s. He found soybeans and corn to have a range of soluble carbohydrates protecting the seed's cell viability.[12] Patents were awarded to him in the early 1990s on techniques for protecting "biological membranes" and proteins in the dry state. Compare to tardigrades.

Nitrogen-fixing ability

Many legumes (alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, peanuts and others) contain symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobia within nodules of their root systems. These bacteria have the special ability of fixing nitrogen from atmospheric, molecular nitrogen (N2) into ammonia (NH3).[13] The chemical reaction is:

N2 + 8 H+ + 8 e → 2 NH3 + H2

Ammonia is then converted to another form, ammonium (NH4+), usable by (some) plants by the following reaction:

NH3 + H+ → NH4+

This arrangement means that the root nodules are sources of nitrogen for legumes, making them relatively rich in plant proteins.

Chemical composition of the seed

Soybean, mature seeds, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 450 kcal   1870 kJ
Carbohydrates     30.16 g
- Sugars  7.33 g
- Dietary fiber  9.3 g  
Fat 19.94 g
- saturated  2.884 g
- monounsaturated  4.404 g  
- polyunsaturated  11.255 g  
Protein 36.49 g
Water 8.54 g
Vitamin A equiv.  1 μg  0%
Thiamin (Vit. B1)  0.874 mg   67%
Riboflavin (Vit. B2)  0.87 mg   58%
Niacin (Vit. B3)  1.623 mg   11%
Pantothenic acid (B5)  0.793 mg  16%
Vitamin B6  0.377 mg 29%
Folate (Vit. B9)  375 μg  94%
Vitamin C  6.0 mg 10%
Vitamin E  0.85 mg 6%
Vitamin K  47 μg 45%
Calcium  277 mg 28%
Iron  15.7 mg 126%
Magnesium  280 mg 76% 
Phosphorus  704 mg 101%
Potassium  1797 mg   38%
Sodium  2 mg 0%
Zinc  4.89 mg 49%
Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are relative to US
recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database

Together, soybean oil and protein content account for about 60% of dry soybeans by weight (protein at 40% and oil at 20%). The remainder consists of 35% carbohydrate and about 5% ash. Soybean cultivars comprise approximately 8% seed coat or hull, 90% cotyledons and 2% hypocotyl axis or germ.

Most soy protein is a relatively heat-stable storage protein. This heat stability enables soy food products requiring high temperature cooking, such as tofu, soy milk and textured vegetable protein (soy flour) to be made.

The principal soluble carbohydrates of mature soybeans are the disaccharide sucrose (range 2.5–8.2%), the trisaccharide raffinose (0.1–1.0%) composed of one sucrose molecule connected to one molecule of galactose, and the tetrasaccharide stachyose (1.4 to 4.1%) composed of one sucrose connected to two molecules of galactose. While the oligosaccharides raffinose and stachyose protect the viability of the soybean seed from desiccation (see above section on physical characteristics) they are not digestible sugars, so contribute to flatulence and abdominal discomfort in humans and other monogastric animals, comparable to the disaccharide trehalose. Undigested oligosaccharides are broken down in the intestine by native microbes, producing gases such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane.

Since soluble soy carbohydrates are found in the whey and are broken down during fermentation, soy concentrate, soy protein isolates, tofu, soy sauce, and sprouted soybeans are without flatus activity. On the other hand, there may be some beneficial effects to ingesting oligosaccharides such as raffinose and stachyose, namely, encouraging indigenous bifidobacteria in the colon against putrefactive bacteria.

The insoluble carbohydrates in soybeans consist of the complex polysaccharides cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin. The majority of soybean carbohydrates can be classed as belonging to dietary fiber.

Within soybean oil or the lipid portion of the seed is contained the phytosterols: stigmasterol (17–21%), sitosterol(53–56%) and campesterol (20–23%) accounting for 2.5% of the lipid fraction.

Saponins, a class of natural surfactants (soaps), are sterols that are present naturally in a wide variety of food-plants: vegetables, legumes, and cereals–ranging from beans and spinach to tomatoes, potatoes and oats. Whole soybeans contain from 0.17 to 6.16% saponins, 0.35 to 2.3% in defatted soy flour and 0.06 to 1.9% in tofu. Legumes such as soybean and chickpeas are the major source of saponins in the human diet. Sources of non-dietary saponins include alfalfa, sunflower, herbs and barbasco.

Soy contains isoflavones like genistein and daidzein. It also contains glycitein, an O-methylated isoflavone which accounts for 5–10% of the total isoflavones in soy food products. Glycitein is a phytoestrogen with weak estrogenic activity, comparable to that of the other soy isoflavones.[14]


For human consumption, soybeans must be cooked with "wet" heat to destroy the trypsin inhibitors (serine protease inhibitors). Raw soybeans, including the immature green form, are toxic to humans, swine, chickens, and in fact, all monogastric animals.[15]

Soybeans are considered by many agencies to be a source of complete protein.[16] A complete protein is one that contains significant amounts of all the essential amino acids that must be provided to the human body because of the body's inability to synthesize them. For this reason, soy is a good source of protein, amongst many others, for vegetarians and vegans or for people who want to reduce the amount of meat they eat. According to the US Food and Drug Administration:

Soy protein products can be good substitutes for animal products because, unlike some other beans, soy offers a 'complete' protein profile. ... Soy protein products can replace animal-based foods—which also have complete proteins but tend to contain more fat, especially saturated fat—without requiring major adjustments elsewhere in the diet.[16]

The gold standard for measuring protein quality, since 1990, is the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) and by this criterion soy protein is the nutritional equivalent of meat, eggs, and casein for human growth and health. Soybean protein isolate has a biological value of 74, whole soybeans 96, soybean milk 91, and eggs 97.[17]

Soy protein is essentially identical to the protein of other legume seeds and pulses.[18][19][20] Moreover, soybeans can produce at least twice as much protein per acre than any other major vegetable or grain crop besides hemp, five to 10 times more protein per acre than land set aside for grazing animals to make milk, and up to 15 times more protein per acre than land set aside for meat production.[4]

Comparison to other major staple foods

The following table shows the nutrient content of green soybean and other major staple foods, each in respective raw form. Raw staples, however, aren't edible and can not be digested. These must be sprouted, or prepared and cooked for human consumption. In sprouted and cooked form, the relative nutritional and anti-nutritional contents of each of these grains is remarkably different from that of raw form of these grains reported in this table. The nutritional value of soybean and each cooked staple depends on the pre-processing and the method of cooking: boiling, frying, roasting, baking, etc. Template:Comparison of major staple foods

The near universality of soy protein

All spermatophytes except for the grass cereal family contain soybean-like 7S (vicilin) and/or 11S (legumin) seed storage globulin proteins. {Oats and rice, are anomalous in that they also contain a majority of soybean protein.} [21] Cocoa for example contains the 7S globulin which contributes to cocoa/chocolate taste and aroma;[22][23][24] whereas coffee beans(coffee grounds) contain the 11S globulin responsible for coffee's aroma and flavor.[25][26]

Vicilin and legumin proteins belong to the cupin superfamily a large and functionally immensely diverse 'superfamily' of proteins that have a common origin and whose evolution can be followed from bacteria to eukaryotes including animals and higher plants.

2S albumins form a major group of homologous storage proteins in many dicot species and in some monocots but not grasses(cereals).[27] 2S albumin are grouped in the prolamin superfamily,[28] other allergenic proteins included in this 'superfamily' are the non-specific lipid transfer proteins, alpha amylase, trypsin inhibitor; And the prolamin storage proteins of cereals and grasses.[21]

Peanut(peanut butter) for instance contain 20% 2S albumin,but only 6% 7S globulin and 74% 11S.[27] It is the high 2S albumin and low 7S globulin that is responsible for the relatively low quality (low lysine) of peanut protein compared to soy protein. Cereal storage prolamins are likewise low in lysine the most important, critical and first limiting amino acid. Peanut butter and wheat bread, therefore, do not complement each other as they each suffer from low lysine.


Soybean output in

Template:Agricultural production box Soybeans are a globally important crop, providing oil and protein. In the United States, the bulk of the harvest is solvent-extracted with hexane, and the "toasted" defatted soymeal (50% protein) then makes possible the raising of farm animals (e.g. chicken, hog, turkey) on an industrial scale never before seen in human history. A very small proportion of the crop is consumed directly by humans.[cn] Soybean products do, however, appear in a large variety of processed foods.

During World War II, soybeans became important in both North America and Europe chiefly as substitutes for other protein foods and as a source of edible oil. During World War II, the soybean was discovered as fertilizer by the United States Department of Agriculture. In the 1960–1 Dillon round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the United States secured tariff-free access for its soybeans to the European market. In the 1960s, the United States exported over 90% of the world's soybeans.[29][30] By the top soybeans exporters were Argentina (39% of world soybean exports), United States (37%) and Brazil (16%), while top importers were China (41% of world soybean imports), European Union (22%), Japan (6%) and Mexico (6%).[31]

Cultivation is successful in climates with hot summers, with optimum growing conditions in mean temperatures of 20 to 30 °C (68 to 86 °F); temperatures of below 20 °C and over 40 °C (68 °F, 104 °F) stunt growth significantly. They can grow in a wide range of soils, with optimum growth in moist alluvial soils with a good organic content. Soybeans, like most legumes, perform nitrogen fixation by establishing a symbiotic relationship with the bacterium Bradyrhizobium japonicum (syn. Rhizobium japonicum; Jordan 1982). For best results, though, an inoculum of the correct strain of bacteria should be mixed with the soybean (or any legume) seed before planting. Modern crop cultivars generally reach a height of around 1 m (3.3 ft), and take 80–120 days from sowing to harvesting.

The U.S., Argentina, Brazil, China and India are the world's largest soybean producers and represent more than 90% of global soybean production.[32] The U.S. produced 75 million tons of soybeans in of which more than one-third was exported. In the–production year, this figure is expected to be over 90 million tons.[6]

The average worldwide yield for soybean crops, in was 2.5 tonnes per hectare. The three largest producers had an average nationwide soybean crop yields of about 3 tonnes per hectare. The most productive soybean farms in the world in were in Turkey, with a nationwide average farm yield of 3.7 tonnes per hectare.[33] The world record for soybean yield is 10.8 tonnes per hectare, demonstrated in by Kip Cullers, a farmer in Purdy, Missouri.[34] Kip Cullers claims the secret to his record breaking soybean crop yields year after year is attention to detail, proactive management style, irrigation, herbicides, keeping plants healthy and stress free for the entire growing season.

Environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and the WWF, have reported soybean cultivation and the probability of increased soybean cultivation in Brazil has destroyed huge areas of Amazon rainforest, and is encouraging further deforestation.[35][36]

American soil scientist Dr. Andrew McClung, who first showed that the ecologically biodiverse savannah of the Cerrado region of Brazil could grow profitable soybeans, was awarded the World Food Prize on October 19.[37][38]

In the USA human sewage sludge can be used as fertilizer to grow soybeans. Soybeans grown in sewage sludge likely contain elevated concentrations of metals.[39][40] Soybean plants are vulnerable to a wide range of bacterial diseases, fungal diseases, viral diseases and parasites. One important pest is the corn earworm moth, which is the most common and destructive pest of soybean growth in Virginia.[41] Soybeans can be grown organically, that is, without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

Further information: List of soybean diseases
Further information: Organic Beans


Soybeans were a crucial crop in East Asia long before written records. [42] They remain a major crop in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, India, China, and Korea. Prior to fermented products such as soy sauce, tempeh, natto, and miso, soy was considered sacred for its beneficial effects in crop rotation.

The plants would be plowed under to clear the field of food crops.[cn] Soy was first introduced to Europe in the early 18th century and to British colonies in North America in 1765, where it was first grown for hay. Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter in 1770 mentioning sending soybeans home from England. Soybeans did not become an important crop outside of Asia until about 1910. In America, soy was considered an industrial product only, and was not used as a food prior to the 1920s. Soy was introduced to Africa from China in the late 19th century, and is now widespread across the continent.


The wild ancestor of the soybean is Glycine soja (previously called G. ussuriensis), a legume native to central China.[43] According to the ancient Chinese myth, in 2853 BCE, the legendary Emperor Shennong of China proclaimed that five plants were sacred: soybeans, rice, wheat, barley, and millet.[44] Cultivation of soybeans was long confined chiefly to East Asia, but gradually spread to other countries during the 20th century.[45]

The origin of soy bean cultivation remains scientifically debated. Recent research indicates that seeding of wild forms started early (before 5000 BCE) in multiple locations through China, Korea and Japan [46] The oldest preserved soybeans resembling modern varieties in size and shape were found in archaeological sites in Korea dated about 1000 BCE [47] Radiocarbon dating of soybean samples recovered through flotation during excavations at the Early Mumun period Okbang site in Korea indicated soybean was cultivated as a food crop in around 1000–900 BCE.[47] Soy bean from the Jomon period in Japan from 3000 BCE [46] are also significantly larger than wild varieties.[46] Early cultivation of soy beans in China was localized and not intensive, e.g. soy bean was unknown in South China before the Han period,[46] using varieties with small wild size beans. Only when new soy bean cultivars became introduced into Zhou China from the "north-east" (as cited by contemporary literature) around 510 BCE an agricultural revolution was triggered eventually making soy beans part the staple diet. [48]

From about the first century CE to the Age of Discovery (15–16th century), soybeans were introduced into several countries, such as India, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Burma, Taiwan and Nepal. This spread was due to the establishment of sea and land trade routes. The earliest Japanese textual reference to the soybean is in the classic Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), which was completed in 712 CE.

Many people have claimed soybeans in Asia were historically only used after a fermentation process, which lowers the high phytoestrogens content found in the raw plant. However, terms similar to "soy milk" have been in use since 82 CE,[49] and there is evidence of tofu consumption that dates to 220.[50]

United States

Soybeans were introduced to America in 1765 by Samuel Bowen, a sailor who had visited China.[51] He grew soy near Savannah, Georgia, and even made soy sauce for sale to England.[52]

Soy took on a very important role in the United States after World War I. During the Great Depression, the drought-stricken (Dust Bowl) regions of the United States were able to use soy to regenerate their soil because of its nitrogen-fixing properties. Farms were increasing production to meet with government demands, and Henry Ford was a great leader of the soybean industry.

In 1932–33, the Ford Motor Company spent approximately $1,250,000 on soybean research. By 1935, every Ford car had soy involved in its manufacture. For example, soybean oil was used to paint the automobiles,[53] as well as fluid for shock absorbers. Ford's involvement with the soybean opened many doors for agriculture and industry to be linked more strongly than ever before.

Henry Ford promoted the soybean, helping to develop uses for it both in food and in industrial products, even demonstrating auto body panels made of soy-based plastics. Ford's interest led to two bushels (120 pounds)[54] of soybeans being used in each Ford car, as well as products like the first commercial soy milk, ice cream and all-vegetable nondairy whipped topping. The Ford development of so-called soy-based plastics was based on the addition of soybean flour and wood flour to phenol formaldehyde plastics.[55] A prototype vehicle, colloquially titled the "Soybean Car", was built in out of such plastics.[56]

In 1931, Ford hired chemists Robert Boyer and Frank Calvert to produce artificial silk. They succeeded in making a textile fiber of spun soy protein fibers, hardened or tanned in a formaldehyde bath, which was given the name Azlon. It was usable in the making of suits, felt hats, and overcoats. Though pilot production of Azlon reached 5000 pounds per day in 1940, it never reached the commercial market; Dupont's nylon was the winner in the quest to produce artificial silk.

South America

The soybean first arrived in South America in Argentina in 1882.[57]


The soybean first arrived in Africa in Egypt in 1857.[58]


Wild soybeans were discovered in northeastern Australia in 1770 by explorers Banks and Solander. In 1804, the first soyfood product ("Fine India Soy" [sauce]) was sold in Sydney. In 1879, the first domesticated soybeans arrived in Australia, a gift of the Minister of the Interior Department, Japan.[59]


In 1831, the first soy product ("A few dozen India Soy" [sauce]) arrived in Canada. Soybeans were probably first cultivated in Canada by 1855, and definitely in 1895 at Ontario Agricultural College. A comprehensive history of soy in Canada (1,060 p., 2,336 references) is available online.[60]

Caribbean and West Indies

The soybean arrived in the Caribbean in the form of soy sauce made by Samuel Bowen in Savannah, Georgia, in 1767. It remains only a minor crop there, but its uses for human food are growing steadily. A comprehensive history of soybeans and soyfoods in this region is available free online.[61]

Central Asia

The soybean is first in cultivated Transcaucasia in Central Asia in 1876, by the Dungans. This region has never been important for soybean production. A comprehensive history of soybeans and soyfoods in this region is available online.[62]

Mexico and Central America

The first reliable reference to the soybean in this region dates from Mexico in 1877. A comprehensive history of soybeans and soyfoods in this region is available online.[63]

Southeast Asia

By the 13th century, the soybean had arrived in Indonesia; it probably arrived much earlier, carried by traders or merchants from southern China.[64]

South Asia and Indian Subcontinent

By the 1600s, soy sauce was being disseminated from southern Japan throughout this region by the Dutch East India Co. (VOC). The soybean probably arrived from southern China, moving southward into northern India.[65]

Genetic modification

Further information: GTS 40-3-2
Different varieties of soybeans being grown together

Soybeans are one of the "biotech food" crops that have been genetically modified, and genetically modified soybeans are being used in an increasing number of products. In 1995, Monsanto Company introduced glyphosate-tolerant soybeans that have been genetically modified to be resistant to Monsanto's glyphosate herbicides through substitution of the Agrobacterium sp. (strain CP4) gene EPSP (5-enolpyruvyl shikimic acid-3-phosphate) synthase. The substituted version is not sensitive to glyphosate.[66]

In 1997, about 8% of all soybeans cultivated for the commercial market in the United States were genetically modified. In the figure was 93%.[67] As with other glyphosate-tolerant crops, concern is expressed over damage to biodiversity.[68] A study[69] concluded the RR gene had been bred into so many different soybean cultivars, there had been little decline in genetic diversity, but "diversity was limited among elite lines from some companies".

The widespread use of such types of GM soybeans in the Americas has caused problems with exports to some regions. GM crops require extensive certification before they can be legally imported into the European Union, where there is considerable supplier and consumer reluctance to use GM products for consumer or animal use. Difficulties with coexistence and subsequent traces of cross-contamination of non-GM stocks have caused shipments to be rejected and have put a premium on non-GM soy.[70]

A United States Department of Agriculture report found the adoption of genetically engineered (GE) soy, corn and cotton reduced the amount of pesticides used overall, but did result in a slightly greater amount of herbicides used for soy specifically. The use of GE soy was also associated with greater conservation tillage, indirectly leading to better soil conservation, as well as increased income from off-farming sources due to the greater ease with which the crops can be managed. Though the overall estimated benefits of the adoption of GE soybeans in the United States was $310 million, the majority of this benefit was experienced by the companies selling the seeds (40%), followed by biotechnology firms (28%) and farmers (20%).[71]

In a team of American scientists announced they had sequenced the soybean genome – the first legume to be sequenced.[72][73]


Tofu and soy sauce
Japanese soybean meat
Open package of a soy-based cream cheese alternative with chives
A Malaysian Soy milk carton, and a glass of the beverage.

Approximately 85% of the world's soybean crop is processed into soybean meal and vegetable oil.[74] 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 (枝豆 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 (豆腐 dòufu),[cn] and also made use of several varieties of soybean paste as seasonings. Japanese foods made from soya include miso (味噌), nattō (納豆), kinako (黄粉) and edamame (枝豆). Also many kinds of food are produced using tofu such as atsuage, aburaage, and so on. In Korean cuisine, soybean sprouts, called kongnamul (콩나물), 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.


Soybean seed contains about 19% oil. To extract soybean oil from seed, the soybeans are cracked, adjusted for moisture content, rolled into flakes and solvent-extracted with commercial hexane. The oil is then refined, blended for different applications, and sometimes hydrogenated. Soybean oils, both liquid and partially hydrogenated, are exported abroad, sold as "vegetable oil", or end up in a wide variety of processed foods. The remaining soybean meal is used mainly as animal feed.[75]


Soybean meal is the material remaining after solvent extraction of oil from soybean flakes, with a 50% soy protein content. The meal is 'toasted' (a misnomer because the heat treatment is with moist steam) and ground in a hammer mill. Soybean meal is an essential element of the American production method of growing farm animals, such as poultry and swine, on an industrial scale that began in the 1930s; and more recently the aquaculture of catfish. Ninety-eight percent of the U.S. soybean crop is used for livestock feed.[43] Soybean meal is also used in lower-end dog foods.[75]


Soy flour refers to soybeans ground finely enough to pass through a 100-mesh or smaller screen where special care was taken during desolventizing (not toasted) to minimize denaturation of the protein to retain a high protein dispersibility index, for uses such as food extrusion of textured vegetable protein. It is the starting material for production of soy concentrate and soy protein isolate.

Soy flour is made by roasting the soybean, removing the coat, and grinding into a flour. Soy flour is manufactured with different fat levels.[76]

  • Defatted soy flour is obtained from solvent extracted flakes, and contains less than 1% oil.[76]
  • "Natural or full-fat soy flour is made from unextracted, dehulled beans, and contains about 18% to 20% oil."[76] Its high oil content requires the use of a specialized Alpine Fine Impact Mill to grind rather than the usual hammer mill. Full-fat soy flour has a lower protein concentration then defatted flour.
  • Low-fat soy flour is made by adding some oil back into defatted soy flour. Fat levels range from 4.5% to 9%.[76]
  • High-fat soy flour can also be produced by adding back soybean oil to defatted flour at the level of 15%.[cn]

Soy lecithin can be added (up to 15%) to soy flour to make lecithinated soy flour. It increases dispersibility and gives it emulsifying properties.[76]

Soy flour has 50% protein and 5% fiber. It has higher levels of protein, thiamine, riboflavin, phosphorus, calcium, and iron than wheat flour. It does not contain gluten.[76] As a result, yeast-raised breads made with soy flour are dense in texture. Among many uses, soy flour thickens sauces, prevents staling in baked food, and reduces oil absorption during frying. Baking food with soy flour gives it tenderness, moistness, a rich color, and a fine texture.[76]

Soy grits are similar to soy flour except the soybeans have been toasted and cracked into coarse pieces.

Kinako is a soy flour used in Japanese cuisine.

Section reference: Smith & Circle (1972, p. 442)

Infant formula

Soy-based infant formula (SBIF) is sometimes given to infants who are not being strictly breastfed; it can be useful for infants who are either allergic to pasteurized cow milk proteins or who are being fed a vegan diet. It is sold in powdered, ready-to-feed, and concentrated liquid forms.

Some reviews have expressed the opinion that more research is needed to determine what effect the phytoestrogens in soybeans may have on infants.[77] Diverse studies have concluded there are no adverse effects in human growth, development, or reproduction as a result of the consumption of soy-based infant formula.[78][79][80] One of these studies, published in the Journal of Nutrition,[80] concludes that there are:

... no clinical concerns with respect to nutritional adequacy, sexual development, neurobehavioral development, immune development, or thyroid disease. SBIFs provide complete nutrition that adequately supports normal infant growth and development. FDA has accepted SBIFs as safe for use as the sole source of nutrition.

Meat and dairy substitutes and extenders

Soybeans can be processed to produce a texture and appearance similar to many other foods. For example, soybeans are the primary ingredient in many dairy product substitutes (e.g., soy milk, margarine, soy ice cream, soy yogurt, soy cheese, and soy cream cheese) and meat substitutes (e.g. veggie burgers). These substitutes are readily available in most supermarkets. Soy milk does not naturally contain significant amounts of digestible calcium. Many manufacturers of soy milk sell calcium-enriched products, as well. Soy is also used in tempeh: the beans (sometimes mixed with grain) are fermented into a solid cake.

Soy products also are used as a low-cost substitute in meat and poultry products.[81][82] Food service, retail and institutional (primarily school lunch and correctional) facilities regularly use such "extended" products. Extension may result in diminished flavor, but fat and cholesterol are reduced. Vitamin and mineral fortification can be used to make soy products nutritionally equivalent to animal protein; the protein quality is already roughly equivalent. The soy-based meat substitute textured vegetable protein has been used for more than 50 years as a way of inexpensively extending ground beef without reducing its nutritional value.[3][4][83][84]

Other products

Soybeans with black hulls are the beans used in Chinese fermented black beans, douchi, not the sometimes confused black turtle beans.

Soybeans are also used in industrial products, including oils, soap, cosmetics, resins, plastics, inks, crayons, solvents, and clothing. Soybean oil is the primary source of biodiesel in the United States, accounting for 80% of domestic biodiesel production.[85] Soybeans have also been used since as fermenting stock in the manufacture of a brand of vodka.[86] In 1936, Ford Motor Company developed a method where soybeans and fibers were rolled together producing a soup which was then pressed into various parts for their cars, from the distributor cap to knobs on the dash board. Ford also informed in public relation releases that in over five million acres (20,000 km2) was dedicated to growing soybeans in the United States.[87]

The Upjohn company used soybean stigmasterol as the starting raw material for the synthesis of cortisone.[88][89]

According to James A. Duke, "The family of the yam Dioscoreaceae triggered North America's second revolution, the Sexual Revolution, by serving as the source for the steroid contraceptive." Today, it is the (yambean) legume family Fabaceae that has replaced Dioscorea species as the starting material for steroids. Mexican barbasco trade no longer supplies the steroid contraceptive industry. All commercially available steroids start with soy sterols. The soybean is now the prime source of steroidal drugs, including contraceptives and steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.[90]

In a interview with William Shurtleff of the Soy Info Center, A.W. Bill Schneider who started working at Upjohn in after leaving Central Soy, tells of the Upjohn company starting to make commercial products out of soy sterols in 1947–48. The first major product was progesterone and

then it really blossomed out [sic] with cortisone. Upjohn made an industry out of soy sterols especially corticosteroids. He knew Percy Julian of Glidden well. Bill's professional career pivoted around [sic] commercializing soy sterols. He had more to do with its commercialization than anyone except for Percy Julian who started the idea at Glidden.[91]

Cattle feed

Cattle are often fed soy. Spring grasses are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whereas soy is predominantly omega-6.

Health benefits


According to the American Cancer Society, "Studies in humans have not shown harm from eating soy foods. Moderate consumption of soy foods appears safe for both breast cancer survivors and the general population, and may even lower breast cancer risk." They caution however that soy supplements should be avoided.[92]


Recent studies have shown improvement in postmenopausal women's cognitive function, particularly verbal memory,[93] and in frontal lobe function[94] with the use of soy supplements.

Alpha-linolenic acid

Roasted soybeans

Soybean oil is one of the vegetable oils that contain a significant amount of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n−3, aLNA). Other plant oils containing aLNA (or ALA) include canola, walnut, hemp, and flax. Soybean oil has an omega-3:omega-6 ratio of 1:7. This is a significantly higher omega-3 content than in other vegetable cooking oils. While flaxseed is even higher with a ratio of 3:1, it is not practical for cooking. For more information on the health benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, see Essential fatty acids.

Natural phenols


Soybeans also contain the isoflavones genistein and daidzein, types of phytoestrogen, that are considered by some dietitians and physicians to be useful in the prevention of cancer and by others to be carcinogenic[95] and endocrine disruptive.[96] Soy's content of isoflavones are as much as 3 mg/g dry weight.[97] Isoflavones are polyphenol compounds, produced primarily by beans and other legumes, including peanuts and chickpeas. Isoflavones are closely related to the antioxidant flavonoids found in other plants, vegetables and flowers. Isoflavones such as genistein and daidzein are found in only some plant families, because most plants do not have an enzyme, chalcone isomerase which converts a flavone precursor into an isoflavone.

In contradiction to well known benefits of isoflavones, genistein acts as an oxidant (stimulating nitrate synthesis),[98] and blocks formation of new blood vessels (antiangiogenic effect).[99] Some studies show that genistein acts as inhibitor of substances that regulate cell division and cell survival (growth factors).

A review of the available studies by the United States Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found little evidence of substantial health improvements and no adverse effects, but also noted that there was no long-term safety data on estrogenic effects from soy consumption.[100]


Glyceollins are molecules belonging to the pterocarpans family. They are also found in the soybean and have been found to have an antifungal activity against Aspergillus sojae, the fungal ferment used to produce soy sauce.[101] They are phytoalexins with an antiestrogenic activity.[102]

Cholesterol and heart diseases

The dramatic increase in soyfood sales is largely credited to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of soy as an official cholesterol-lowering food, along with other heart and health benefits.[103] A literature review argued that these health benefits were poorly supported by the available evidence, and noted that disturbing data on soy's effect on the cognitive function of the elderly existed.[104] In an epidemiological study of 719 Indonesian elderly found that tofu intake was associated with worse memory, but tempeh (a fermented soy product) intake was associated with better memory.[105] This study replicated other studies.

In 1995, the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 333, No. 5) published "Meta-analysis of the effects of soy protein intake on serum lipids",[106] financed in part by DuPont Protein Technologies International (PTI), which produces and markets soy through The Solae Company (see external links). The meta-analysis concluded that soy protein is correlated with significant decreases in serum cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. However, HDL (good cholesterol) did not increase by a significant amount. Soy phytoestrogens (isoflavones: genistein and daidzein) adsorbed onto the soy protein were suggested as the agent reducing serum cholesterol levels. On the basis of this research PTI filed a petition with FDA in for a health claim that soy protein may reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

The FDA granted the following health claim for soy: "25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."[16] One serving, (1 cup or 240 mL) of soy milk, for instance, contains 6 or 7 grams of soy protein. Solae resubmitted their original petition, asking for a more vague health claim, after their original was challenged and highly criticized. Solae also submitted a petition for a health claim that soy can help prevent cancer. They quickly withdrew the petition for lack of evidence and after more than 1,000 letters of protest were received. On February 18, Weston A. Price Foundation submitted a petition for removal of this health claim.[107] 25 g/day soy protein was established as the threshold intake because most trials used at least this much protein and not because less than this amount is inefficacious. In fact, there is evidence suggesting that lower amounts are indeed efficacious.[108]

An American Heart Association review of a decade long study of soy protein benefits casts doubt on the FDA allowed "Heart Healthy" claim for soy protein and does not recommend isoflavone supplementation. The review panel also found that soy isoflavones have not been shown to reduce post menopause "hot flashes" in women and the efficacy and safety of isoflavones to help prevent cancers of the breast, uterus or prostate is in question. However, AHA concludes that "many soy products should be beneficial to cardiovascular and overall health because of their high content of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low content of saturated fat".[95]

Importantly, however, the AHA did not conduct a formal statistical analysis of the 22 studies upon which they based their estimate of the potency of soy protein. When such an analysis was conducted, Jenkins et al.[109] found that the AHA had considerably underestimated the hypocholesterolemic effects of soy protein. Further, when the analysis was limited to the 11 studies that provided evidence that the control and soy diets were matched, soy protein was found to lower LDL by 5.2 percent. This estimate is in line with the results of other recently published meta-analyses.[110][111][112] Furthermore, recent research suggests that soy protein decreases postprandial triglyceride levels, which is increasingly viewed as important for reducing CHD risk.[113]

Phytic acid

Soybeans contain a high level of phytic acid, which has many effects including acting as an antioxidant and a chelating agent. The beneficial claims for phytic acid include reducing cancer,[114] minimizing diabetes,[115] and reducing inflammation.[116] However, phytic acid is also criticized for reducing vital minerals due to its chelating effect, especially for diets already low in minerals.[117]

Health risks


Allergy to soy is common, and the food is listed with other foods that commonly cause allergy, such as milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish. The problem has been reported among younger children, and the diagnosis of soy allergy is often based on symptoms reported by parents and/or results of skin tests or blood tests for allergy. Only a few reported studies have attempted to confirm allergy to soy by direct challenge with the food under controlled conditions.[118] It is very difficult to give a reliable estimate of the true prevalence of soy allergy in the general population. To the extent that it does exist, soy allergy may cause cases of urticaria and angioedema, usually within minutes to hours of ingestion. In rare cases, true anaphylaxis may also occur. The reason for the discrepancy is likely that soy proteins, the causative factor in allergy, are far less potent at triggering allergy symptoms than the proteins of peanut and shellfish.[119] An allergy test that is positive demonstrates that the immune system has formed IgE antibodies to soy proteins. However, this is only a factor when soy proteins reach the blood without being digested, in sufficient quantities to reach a threshold to provoke actual symptoms.

Soy can also trigger symptoms via food intolerance, a situation where no allergic mechanism can be proven. One scenario is seen in very young infants who have vomiting and diarrhoea when fed soy-based formula, which resolves when the formula is withdrawn. Older infants can suffer a more severe disorder with vomiting, diarrhoea that may be bloody, anemia, weight loss and failure to thrive. The most common cause of this unusual disorder is a sensitivity to cow's milk, but soy formulas can also be the trigger. The precise mechanism is unclear and it could be immunologic, although not through the IgE-type antibodies that have the leading role in urticaria and anaphylaxis. However it is also self-limiting and will often disappear in the toddler years.[120]


Soybeans contain isoflavones called genistein and daidzein, which are one source of phytoestrogens in the human diet. Because most naturally occurring estrogenic substances show weak activity, normal consumption of foods that contain these phytoestrogens should not provide sufficient amounts to elicit a physiological response in humans.[121]

Plant lignans associated with high fiber foods such as cereal brans and beans are the principal precursor to mammalian lignans which have an ability to bind to human estrogen sites. Soybeans are a significant source of mammalian lignan precursor secoisolariciresinol containing 13–273 µg/100 g dry weight.[122] Another phytoestrogen in the human diet with estrogen activity is coumestans, which are found in beans, split-peas, with the best sources being alfalfa, clover, and soybean sprouts. Coumestrol, an isoflavone coumarin derivative is the only coumestan in foods.[123][124]

Soybeans and processed soy foods are among the richest foods in total phytoestrogens (wet basis per 100g), which are present primarily in the form of the isoflavones daidzein and genistein.[125]


A literature review suggested that women with current or past breast cancer should be aware of the risks of potential tumor growth when taking soy products, based on the effect of phytoestrogens to promote breast cancer cell growth in animals.[126] A commentary reviewed the relationship with soy and breast cancer. They stated that soy may decrease the risk of breast cancer, but cautioned that the impact of isoflavones on breast tissue needs to be evaluated at the cellular level in women at high risk for breast cancer.[127] A high consumption of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in most types of vegetable oil including soybean oil, may increase the likelihood that postmenopausal women will develop breast cancer.[128] Another analysis suggests an inverse association between total polyunsaturated fatty acids and breast cancer risk.[129] A analysis of the literature said: "Our study suggests soy isoflavones intake is associated with a significant reduced risk of breast cancer incidence in Asian populations, but not in Western populations."[130]

In a recent (August) trial the daily administration of tablets containing 200 mg of soy isoflavones for 2 years did not prevent bone loss or menopausal symptoms.[131][132]


Because of the phytoestrogen content, some studies have suggested that soybean ingestion may influence testosterone levels in men. However, a meta-analysis of 15 placebo controlled studies showed that neither soy foods nor isoflavone supplements alter measures of bioavailable testosterone or estrogen concentrations in men.[133] It has been hypothesized that soy foods and enterolactone may increase the development of prostate cancer although no significant associations were observed for the soy isoflavones.[134] Furthermore, soy consumption has been shown to have no effect on the levels and quality of sperm.[135] A meta-analysis of the research on the association between soy consumption and prostate cancer risk in men concluded that "consumption of soy foods is associated with a reduction in prostate cancer risk in men."[136]


Though there is some evidence that estrogen can help protect and repair the brain after injury in rats,[137] there is also evidence that phytoestrogens may be harmful for the recovery of rats in other situations[138] that have sustained brain injury.

Similarly, epidemiological evidence of humans eating soya products is currently divided: a study of Japanese men between and demonstrated a positive correlation between brain atrophy and consumption of tofu meals,[139] and a study on elderly Indonesian men and women found that high tofu intake was associated with poorer memory, but the consumption of tempeh was associated with better memory.[105]

So it may be that the type of soya bean used, or its preparation or additional ingredients are relevant factors, there is not yet definitive evidence known.[140]


Though raw soy flour is known to cause pancreatic cancer in rats[141] the cooked flour has not been found carcinogenic.[142][143] Whether soy might promote pancreatic cancer in humans is unknown because studies have not yet attempted to single out soy intake and the incidence of pancreatic cancer in humans, and the amount of soy fed to the rats is proportionately far larger than what humans would normally consume. However, the soy isoflavone genistein has been suggested as a chemopreventive agent against pancreatic cancer, by interfering with the chemical pathways that promote the creation and growth of tumors.[144]

The Cancer Council of New South Wales, Australia has released a statement saying scientific research suggests that overall the moderate consumption of soy products does not appear to present a risk to women with breast cancer, and there is equivocal evidence that consuming large amounts of soy products may have a protective effect against developing breast and prostate cancer. However, the Council does not recommend taking soy dietary supplements as there is no evidence they are either effective or safe at preventing or treating cancers.


Soybeans and soy products contain significant amounts of purines, a class of organic compounds. For people who suffer from gout, eating foods containing moderate or high levels of purines might make the condition worse. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that gout sufferers limit consumption of soy products (although also suggesting that soy may have health benefits by reducing the risk for heart disease).[145] However, other researchers have found little or no association between consumption of purine-rich vegetables (including beans) and gout.[146][147]

Soybean futures

Soybean futures are traded on the Chicago Board of Trade and have delivery dates in January (F), March (H), May (K), July (N), August (Q), September (U), November (X).

It is also traded on other commodity futures exchanges under different contract specifications:

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