Soybeans might just be the most discussed legumes in the world. Some tout their many health benefits, while others warn of their hidden dangers.
What is the truth behind this versatile bean? Are soybeans actually healthy for you? Is it safe to eat soy-based foods every day?
In this article, we’ll investigate the facts behind the many varieties of soybeans. You might be surprised by what you learn!
What Are Soybeans?
Soybeans are a popular species of edible legume. The wild soybean originated in East Asia and was domesticated and consumed by early humans over 10,000 years ago.
Humans have carefully cultivated soy plants for millennia, leading to countless modern domestic varieties.
This crop was first introduced to the United States in the 18th century. Farmers began growing them for livestock forage throughout North and South America.
It wasn’t until the Great Depression that farmers in the United States began widely cultivating soybeans for human consumption.
Today, soy is one of America’s most significant exports. If you live in a rural area, then you probably see the massive fields dedicated to this humble bean.
The Many Varieties of Soybeans
Since the mid-20th century, soybean production has expanded immensely in the United States. Extensive genetic selection has led to a wide range of different soy varieties.
Soy products are a crucial component in many different applications. Soy is more than just a food staple for people and animals. Soy is used in the manufacturing of industrial lubricants, biodiesel, candles, personal care products, and more.
Soy is likely most famous as an animal product alternative. People have long used texturized soy protein to create imitation meat, dairy, fish, and eggs.
As the demand for improved meat substitutes continues to soar, we can expect more soybean varieties to emerge in the future.
The United States Department of Agriculture appoints farmers that make up the United Soybean Board. This organization serves to improve U.S. soy production and oversees all investments relating to the soybean checkoff program.
Commercial GMO Soybeans
Beans grown for livestock and other applications, such as soybean oil, are often GMO varieties. This allows for higher crop yields while minimizing land and water usage.
There is significant controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms. Roundup Ready soy, corn, canola, beets, cotton, and alfalfa is often the subject of such scrutiny.
What is the truth behind GMO soy crops? A 2004 study concluded that no adverse effects are associated with consuming Roundup Ready soybeans.
The real issue most commercial farmers encounter when they rely on Roundup Ready GMO crops in combination with widespread glyphosate use is weeds gaining natural resistance to Roundup.
Many scientific organizations dedicate time and research to preventing this resistance through improved soybean genetics.
Researchers at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station study the performance and safety of glyphosate-tolerant genetically-engineered soybean varieties.
Cover Crop and Feed Soybeans
When running a large-scale farming operation, you want to ensure the long-term health of your soil. That is why many commercial farmers utilize crop rotation practices.
A critical part of a crop rotation system is the inclusion of nitrogen-fixing legume cover crops. These plants work symbiotically with microbes in the soil to restore depleted nitrogen.
Legumes like soybeans and clover take atmospheric nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the earth. Subsequent grass crops like corn and wheat then require less added fertilizer to flourish.
Using soy as a cover crop is a great way to improve soil health while also making a profit. Soybean hulls are an excellent source of roughage for livestock, and the beans themselves are high in protein.
Farmers in the United States primarily grew soy as a feed crop for over 150 years. In the early 1900s, scientists discovered that cooking these legumes unlocks vital nutrients.
The food-scarcity pressures of the Great Depression led to the rise in cultivating soybeans for human consumption.
Edamame and Green Soybeans
Green soybeans are more commonly known as edamame. They are often prepared by stir-frying or steaming the bean pods whole.
Raw soybeans have low nutrition bioavailability due to their high phytic acid content. Cooking them destroys this compound and increases the nutritional value.
Studies have increasingly shown that the regular consumption of soybeans is associated with numerous beneficial health effects. Edamame is a healthy way to enjoy these beans whole, making them a great source of dietary fiber.
Biei soybeans are suitable for growing in warm climates, and you should sow them in early summer for the best results. They mature in around ten weeks, once pods swell with three plump beans and foliage begins to yellow.
Midori Giant Edamame
The Midori giant soybean makes an excellent container plant and is a heavy producer. These beans are the most popular edamame variety and taste amazing when steamed and lightly seasoned.
Chiba Green Edamame
Chiba edamame seed pods are a favorite for stir-frying and eating fresh. The thin green skin has an excellent texture, and the plump beans are crisp and flavorful.
White and Yellow Soybeans
Traditional soy foods take advantage of the essential nutrients unlocked by cooking and fermenting the dried beans. Fermented soybeans are a rich source of protein and essential amino acids.
Most processed soy foods are fermented and texturized. Texturized soy-based food products can effectively imitate meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
It’s pretty easy to make soy protein at home. In fact, tofu can be a byproduct of making your own soymilk!
Kodaizu soybeans mature in around three months or once the plant is entirely brown and dry. This variety is delightfully nutty and is commonly used to make natto, a fermented soy breakfast food popular in Japan.
The Shinonome soybean is a small bean prized for its delicate flavor and high protein content. This variety is the perfect choice for you if you want to make soy products like tofu and soymilk.
Soybeans contain a complex array of beneficial chemicals, including the antioxidant that lends black soybeans their distinctive hue.
Studies have linked the consumption of beans to lower rates of certain cancers. Black soybeans have the added benefit of providing proven protection against cell-damaging free radicals.
Sprouting black soybean seeds is a delicious and easy way to take advantage of their many health benefits. Try sprouted beans added to your favorite salads and soups.
Tankuro soybean seeds are slightly sweeter than lighter-colored varieties. They are suitable for container gardening and retain their rich hue when cooked.
Kuro Otsubu Soybeans
This cultivar is one of the latest to mature, taking up to five months from planting to harvest. The wait is well worth it for the rich flavor of the Kuro Otsubu, which makes a wonderful miso paste. If you live somewhere with a shorter growing season, consider growing this plant in a container.
To learn more, read our blog post about Black Soybeans.
Soy Culinary Tips
Traditional soy foods that originate from East Asia typically rely on fermentation to make them more nutritious.
If you don’t want to take the extra steps to ferment your beans, don’t worry! Soybeans are delicious when sprouted, and this might be one of the healthiest ways to enjoy them.
Check out the True Leaf Market Sprouting Guide and Trail Sprouting Bag Kit to learn more about sprouting beans.
How to Make Soymilk
One of the easiest ways to enjoy soybeans is by making fresh soymilk. All you need to make a creamy glass of soymilk is a large pot, a food processor or blender, cheesecloth, and your favorite dried soybean seeds.
Step 1: Boil Whole Dried Soybeans
Place the dried soybeans in a large pot and add just enough water to cover them. Bring it to a rolling boil and extinguish the heat. Cover the pot and let it rest until the contents are cool.
Step 2: Soak Overnight
Move the cooled mixture to an airtight container and refrigerate it overnight.
Step 3: Strain
Pour the soaking liquid into a jar or bowl, cover it, and set it aside for later use.
Step 4: Puree Boiled Soybeans
Use a food processor or blender to puree the cooked beans. The Müeller Ultra Stick is a popular and highly-rated immersion blender that can make this step a breeze.
Step 5: Press Soybean Paste
Scoop up the pureed beans and place them in a folded length of cheesecloth. Gather the corners and cinch them together to keep the paste contained. Squeeze it firmly over a wide-mouth jar or bowl to collect the creamy liquid.
Step 6: Combine Liquid and Chill
Combine the more concentrated liquid with the soaking water and refrigerate. Shake or stir it well before serving.
Don’t throw away the paste after you finish making your delicious homemade soymilk! This nutritious bean puree is the key ingredient in making tofu. Try it out yourself with a basic tofu-making kit.
Soy products are highly nutritious and a great source of both fiber and protein.
One cup of steamed, shelled edamame contains 200 calories, six grams of fat, eight grams of fiber, and 16 grams of protein.
A four-ounce serving of homemade tofu contains around 75 calories, two grams of fat, two grams of fiber, and nine grams of protein.
Homemade soymilk does not contain a significant amount of calcium. If you are consuming soymilk regularly, you should fortify it with calcium carbonate or consider taking a calcium supplement.
How to Grow Soybeans
The wild soybean grows abundantly across East and Southeast Asia. Most modern cultivars can survive in North America from USDA hardiness zones 3a through 11b.
You must always start soybean seeds in their final growing spot. Legumes do not respond well to transplanting.
Do you live in a cool, northern climate with a short growing season? The good news is almost every soy variety does well in containers since the domesticated soybean is compact and hardy.
Domestic soybeans are annual plants, meaning you must replant them each year.
Wild perennial soybean varieties continue to grow and flourish until they get destroyed by frost. Still, these varieties are rarely commercially available and produce low-quality beans.
Is it OK to eat soybeans every day?
Soybean seeds are an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals. They are also rich in clean protein and dietary fiber, making them a great way to lose fat and build lean muscle mass.
Long-term studies have not shown any adverse effects associated with the daily consumption of soy-based foods.
Additionally, research has proven that soy-derived phytoestrogens have no negative effects on men. In fact, evidence suggests that soy isoflavones can increase virility and sperm count in healthy adult men.
What are the benefits of soybeans?
Clinical trials suggest that soybean isoflavones can reduce the risk of breast, prostate, and other forms of cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends a diet rich in plant-based foods like beans and peas to protect against many cancers.
There is also overwhelming evidence linking the daily consumption of beans with improved heart function and healthy weight in adults.
Can soybeans be eaten raw?
Yes, soybean seeds can be enjoyed raw, straight from the garden. Some varieties taste better raw than others, with flavors similar to sweet green peas or Spanish peanuts.
Consider growing Chiba Green Edamame if you are interested in eating your soybean seeds raw. This variety features thinner skin that is easier to eat whole.
Make Growing Soybeans Part of Your Backyard Garden!
Soy-based products might have a bad reputation, but these little legumes are actually quite remarkable!
Soybeans are packed with essential vitamins and minerals and are an excellent source of protein and dietary fiber. Plus, you can easily grow soybean plants in nearly any climate.
After reading this article, you likely want to get started growing your own soybeans. Check out our Bean Plants page to learn more about how to grow the best legumes.