Soy (Glycine max), also called soja bean or soya bean, annual legume of the pea family (Fabaceae) and its edible seed. The soybean is economically the most important bean in the world, providing vegetable protein for millions of people and ingredients for hundreds of chemical products.
Soybeans are used in the production of many foods, such as miso and soy sauce, and as a source of cooking oil. A large proportion of the world's processed soybean crop is used for animal feed and the remainder for food. Some of the most important processing industries are based on textiles (soy protein), adhesives (soy polysaccharides), petrochemicals (soy oil), plastics, foundry resins, shortening, and margarine.
Soybeans are grown in many regions of the world, but more than half are grown in East Asia. Soybeans were first domesticated in China about 3,000 years ago. The greatest exporters of soybean oil in the world are Argentina, Brazil, and China. The greatest soybean producer in the world is the United States, which yielded more than 90 million tons of soybeans in 2013.
Soybeans can be broadly categorized into three groups: oilseeds (or vegetable oils), grain legumes, and fiber sources. Soybean oil is composed of approximately 40 percent saturated fatty acids and 60 percent polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. Soybeans produce a high-quality, low-cost vegetable oil that is used in many types of products from margarine to salad dressings to cooking oil.
The soybean plant has a life cycle of one year or less. It grows rapidly and can reach a height of about 2 meters (6.5 feet). The stem is branched, with one to four leaflets per node. Its root system is widespread and penetrates deep into the soil. Soybean flowers typically are yellow or pale purple with five petals that form a cross shape known as a pea flower. The fruit is a capsule with two round or kidney-shaped seeds. Soybeans grow best in fields that are well-drained, fertile, and finely crumbled soil. They are generally planted by drilling into the soil rather than by broadcasting seed on top of it. Soybean seeds are green, ovoid, and about 1.5 to 2.5 millimetres (0.06 to 0.1 inch) long.
Soybeans have a large number of applications in various industries including food, textile, oil even auto body paint among others. If you think about soybeans for a second you might be surprised to learn of the many applications of this versatile little bean.
The first and foremost application of soybeans is as a source of oil. Soybean oil accounts for about 7 percent of the world's vegetable oils and is used in cooking as well as a wide range of other products from margarine to salad dressings to shortening. It is also used for biodiesel, paints, and varnishes among other things.
Soybean oil is composed of approximately 40 percent saturated fatty acids and 60 percent polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. The oil has a pleasant taste, free of bitterness, which makes it an ideal source for salad dressings as well as regular cooking.
Soy protein is used in a variety of food products. It has been estimated that more than 60% of the ingredients added to processed foods are soy protein-based. The reason for this prevalence of soy protein is its versatility. Soy proteins are cheaply available, easily processed and they help to create products with good body properties, taste, texture, and nutritional value.
Western consumer demand for soybean products has increased with the relatively high prices of meat, milk and eggs in recent years. It is often claimed that rich countries are eating more vegetarian food because of the high price of animal products.
Soybeans are used to make highly diverse processed foods with an infinite number of applications ranging from cosmetics to printing inks to pharmaceutical products.
Soybeans are grown in many regions of the world but more than half are grown in East Asia. Soybeans were first domesticated in China about 3,000 years ago. The greatest exporters of soybean oil in the world are Argentina, Brazil, and China. The greatest soybean producer in the world is the United States, which yielded more than 90 million tons of soybeans in 2013.