Information about Legumes: Soybeans

About soybeans, information on the legumes, uses and production, history and location in the world.


The soybean is undoubtedly the king of beans, and is rapidly becoming the most important bean in the world. It was being cultivated in China before 3500 B.C., but was virtually unknown in Europe and the U.S. until 1900. There are about 30 varieties, many of them different colors, but the one we see most is yellow. Unlike other beans, soybeans are as much as 35% protein, as little as 35% carbohydrate, and 18% fat. Soybeans are the only true meat substitute in the legume family, providing complete protein as well as essential amino acids, calcium, and B vitamins. In fact, soybeans are being looked upon as possible saviors of the world. They are able to provide a cheap and nutritional diet for the underdeveloped countries, as well as possible meat substitutes for the wealthier countries, where it may no longer be feasible to raise livestock because of shortages of land and grain.

Soybeans are also made into flour, broken up into grits, and into a curd called "tofu," which is used extensively in Japanese and Chinese cooking. The Chinese have traditionally used very little, if any, cow's milk, making instead soy milk obtained by crushing soybeans in water. Oil made from soybeans provides linoleic acid, one of the essential fatty acids. Soybeans can be used in many ways. They can be cooked like other dried beans and then flavored with different seasonings. Soy grits, which cook much more quickly than the whole beans, can be used as a meat extender, or added to soups or other moist foods. Tofu, the soybean curd, can be cut up and added to soups or scrambled eggs; or stir-fried with vegetables, Chinese-style. Soy flour can be added in bread-making, providing extra protein and vitamins at very low cost, and can also be used to thicken soups and sauces. The versatility of this wonder bean is unlimited, but only as our natural resources become scarcer will we discover the true worth of the soybean.

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