Simanaitis Says

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THE SOYBEAN IS among the most versatile of legumes. What other vegetable can supply feed for livestock, yet be toxic to us and other monogastric sorts in its uncooked form? What other bean can be brewed into a sauce, boiled as edamame, processed into tofu, transformed into faux meat—or even caught up in an automotive scam suggested by no less than Henry Ford?

All of this calls for Parts 1 and 2, today and tomorrow.

The soybean, Glycine max, is native to East Asia, widely grown for its edible bean, with numerous uses. Image by H. Zell.

An Old Bean. In the Chinese year 2853, so an ancient myth suggests, Emperor Shennong proclaimed five plants to be sacred: soybean, rice, wheat, barley, and millet. Based on archeological evidence, soybean cultivation took place even before 5000 B.C. throughout East Asia.

Western traders discovered soybeans in the 1600s, with the legume’s western cultivation dating from a century later: 1760 in Turin, Italy; 1765 in North America; 1767 in the Caribbean; 1770 in Australia; 1779 (possibly as early as 1740) in France. This earliest western cultivation was for livestock feed, a trend that continues throughout the world to this day.

Reviewed in AAAS Science, November 30, 2018: The Story of Soy, by Christine M. Du Bois, Reaktion Books, 2018.

Monogastrics Beware! According to Wikipedia, raw soybeans, including their immature green form, are toxic to monogastric animals. That is, humans and others with single-chamber stomachs cannot tolerate the trypsin inhibitors contained in untreated soybeans.

By contrast, ruminants like cattle, sheep, and goats have four-chambered stomachs capable of digesting them. Solvent-extracted soymeal is also a prime feedstock for farm animals. Ninety-seven percent of global soybean meal production is used as livestock feedstock.

A cropduster over a U.S. soybean field. Image by Ken Hammond, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Soybeans for Us Humans. Common soybean-based food includes soy sauce, soy milk (useful for those who are lactose intolerant), edamame (boiled immature soybeans), tofu (also known as bean curd), tempeh (Indonesian fermented soybeans), and textured vegetable protein (TVP, faux meat).

One of my favs is Togarashi Edamame Beans prepared by chef Gabe Caliendo of the Lazy Dog Café chain. Here’s its recipe from

Main soybean producers in 2016 were the U.S. (35 percent of the world total), Brazil (29 percent), and Argentina (18 percent). In the U.S., soybeans are second only to corn in terms of acreage. Top importers were China (41 percent of world soybean imports), the European Union (22 percent), Japan (6 percent), and Mexico (6 percent).

Tofu is produced by coagulating soy milk, then pressing the resulting curds into blocks. Depending upon moisture content, it may be soft, firm, or extra firm (my favorite).

Food Versus Fuel. Biodiesel fuel can come from animal fat or vegetable oil, including soy oil, typically reacted with an alcohol. The challenge of food versus fuel is not without controversy.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Henry Ford takes an axe, and gives his trunk lid…. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

One comment on “OH SOY, CAN YOU SAY? PART 1

  1. jlalbrecht64
    December 16, 2018

    “Ninety-seven percent of global soybean meal production is used as livestock feedstock.” This statistic and many similar (e.g. animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation combined) are why veganism is the only way we are going to survive as a species. I don’t claim to be a saint or better than others. I didn’t have my eyes opened until over age 50. But I can’t unlearn the math that animal agriculture is not sustainable for human life on planet earth.

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