Harvest is in full swing and I get to watch its progress on my commute to work every weekday. Unfortunately, the weather was not so cooperative this summer in providing needed moisture for many of the crops. However, I am still amazed at how many crops there are in our part of the country, and more than once I’ve wondered what they do with all those soybeans! It doesn’t seem like I often eat soybeans as a part of my usual diet, so who is using all those soybeans? Maybe some of you have wondered about that, too, so I’ll share a little information about soy and its uses that just might surprise you.
The first domestication of soybeans has been traced to China, and it was one of their five main plant foods. Soybeans were first introduced into the American Colonies in the 1760s and were mostly used as a forage crop to feed animals. Since that time, production has dramatically increased, and now several million bushels of soybeans are produced each year in the United States.
Uses of Soybeans
Most of the soybean crop is processed into meal and oil. The oil from soybeans is made into margarine, cooking oils, salad dressings and shortening. Perhaps you’ve seen the ingredient lecithin listed on a label. This product is extracted from soybean oil and acts as an emulsifier, a product that keeps other food items from separating. For example, lecithin is used in chocolate candy to keep the chocolate and cocoa butter from separating. Soybean oil has non-edible uses as well, such as being used in paints, varnishes, caulk, ink, lubricants and fuel products.
The high protein meal that remains after extraction can be processed into soybean flour for both human and animal food. Common uses for soy protein products include: infant formula, soy milk, weight loss and sports drinks and as a substitute for or added ingredient in meat products.
Recent nutritional studies have produced some interesting potential health-related benefits associated with the use of soy products. Some studies have shown a possible reduction in the risk of heart disease and a reduction in certain types of cancers, including breast and prostate, with the use of soy products. Other studies have shown a possible decrease in symptoms associated with menopause and hot flashes in women. Soy products are also a good source of protein and fiber.
So what can you get from a bushel of soybeans? Interestingly enough, a 60-pound bushel of soybeans yields about 11 pounds of oil and 48 pounds of meal. That bit of trivia sure gives me a whole new perspective when I drive by all those fields on the way to work!