What Are Soybeans?

Description, nutrition, and soybean products.

soy beans and soybean products
Diane Labombarbe/E+/Getty Images

Soybeans are a variety of edible bean also known as soya beans or Glycine max. Soybeans are also sometimes referred to as edamame, although this term is usually reserved for immature soybeans or the dish comprised of steamed immature soybeans.This bean is native to East Asia, but is now widely cultivated and consumed across the globe. Soybean products are used for human consumption, animal feed, and a variety of non-food consumer and industrial products.

Soybean Nutrition

Raw soybeans are toxic to humans due to naturally occurring trypsin inhibitors. These chemicals are destroyed by heat, so soybeans must be cooked with moist heat (steaming, boiling, poaching, etc.) prior to consumption.

One cup of cooked mature soybeans contains approximately 298 calories, 15 grams of fat, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of fiber, and 29 grams of protein. Soybeans provide all nine essential amino acids and are therefore considered to be a complete protein. Soybeans are one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein and are very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, making them an ideal substitute for animal-based protein sources.

Soybeans are also an excellent source of iron, with one cup of cooked mature soybeans providing 49% of the recommended daily value. Soybeans are also an excellent source of other nutrients, like potassium, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium.

Soybean Products

Soybeans have been a staple food in many parts of the world for thousands of years. During that time, several different products have been made using soybeans, allowing humans to enjoy them in many different dishes. Below are some of the most common products produced with soybeans.

Soy Sauce - Soy sauce is a highly flavored extract of fermented soybean curd.

Soybean curd is fermented along with roasted grains and a special brine and then pressed to extract the dark brown, salty sauce. This sauce is a common condiment and ingredient in Asian cuisines.

Tofu - Also known as soybean curd, tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing to remove the liquid. Tofu is a common ingredient in Asian cuisine and has a neutral flavor that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Tofu is high in protein and is often used as a meat substitute.

Vegetable Oil - Soybeans have a relatively high oil content at around 20% oil. Approximately 85% of soybeans grown around the world are used to make vegetable oils that are either sold to consumers or used commercially.

Soy Milk / Soy Drink - Soy milk is a high protein drink made from soaking soybeans and then grinding them with water to create an emulsion of oil, protein, and water. With a protein and fat content similar to that of dairy milk, soy milk is a common substitute for those who avoid eating animal products or are lactose intolerant.

Tempeh - Tempeh is a fermented soybean product made by culturing compressed soybean cakes. Unlike tofu, tempeh cakes are made with the whole soybean, rather than the extracted curd.

Tempeh is strongly flavored and contains many vitamins and nutrients.

Fermented Bean Curd - Sometimes referred to as tofu cheese, fermented bean curd is made by allowing extracted bean curd (or tofu) to ferment. Fermented bean curd commonly has other ingredients added to it, such as a brine, oil, vinegar, or other flavorings.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) - This is a byproduct of extracting the oils from soybeans, which leaves a high protein content product behind. TVP is often used as a meat substitute or meat extender as it has a similar protein level and texture. When TVP is in its dried form, it has an extended shelf live of over a year.

Soy Flour - Soy flour is made by milling or grinding dried and toasted soybeans. This flour is gluten-free and can be made with varying levels of fat.

Soy flour is often used as a substitute for wheat flour for gluten intolerant individuals, although it produces a much more dense product due its lack of gluten. This dense, moist effect is sometimes desirable, especially with some desserts and cakes, like brownies.