The Reason Why Soy Is One of The Most Versatile Crops
Soybean is a valuable crop worldwide, owing to their nutritional efficacy as a food and feed ingredient.
Often referred to as the “miracle crop, “soybeans are the world’s leading vegetable protein and oil source. This legume is a green plant related to peas, groundnuts, and alfalfa. Soybeans fall under oilseed, which refers to crops with seeds that can produce edible and non-edible oil in commercial quantities.
Increased demand for this legume worldwide can be attributed to its increasing use as an alternative source of protein and in animal feed. Farmers are producing more than 13 times as much soy globally as in the early 1960s.
Learn more about the versatility of this popular legume.
How Did Soy Become the World’s Top Cultivated Crop?
Since it was first grown 5,000 years ago in China, soy has been used for various purposes. From soy sauce to being used as “coffee berries” to brew coffee by soldiers during coffee scarcity of the U.S. Civil War and as forage for cattle, versatile crop products have become essential for humans and animals.
By the time George Washington Carver discovered the potential of soy to produce valuable protein and oil in 1904, the use of soy in industrial food production skyrocketed. In the early 1950s, soybean meal became famous as a low-cost, high-protein feed ingredient, resulting in an explosion in livestock and poultry production. The soybean market has gone global, attaining a consumption volume of 357 million metric tons in 2021, and is expected to reach 396 million by 2027.
What Makes Soy the Most Versatile Crop?
In recent years, the food processing sector in the United States has increasingly employed the nation’s abundant supply of soybeans in products, including margarine, shortening, ice cream, salad dressings, and mayonnaise. Paint, ink, putty, caulking, wallpaper, rubber replacements, adhesives, fire extinguisher foam, electrical insulation, and gasoline are just some of the industrial uses for smaller quantities. In industrialized nations, the multipurpose soybean is a staple food.
Here are some reasons soy is a versatile crop:
- High Demand for Industrial Production
Soybean oil is used for cooking and producing mayonnaise, salad dressings, and margarine. Lecithin extracted during the refining of soy oil serves as an emulsifier. It is an essential element in confections, baked goods, dairy products, and quick foods after further processing. Animal feed, health and nutrition goods, cosmetics, and industrial coatings also utilize lecithin.
As an economical health booster, producing various medications, such as vitamin E and other antioxidants, is a fast-expanding market for soybean oil. Soybean oil is also utilized in the industrial sector as a key material in inks, varnishes, and paints. Numerous detergents, lubricants, and adhesives use soybean oil. In addition, soybean oil has great potential as an eco-friendly alternative to diesel fuel derived from petroleum, known as biodiesel.
Oils, soap, cosmetics, resins, plastics, inks, solvents, textiles, car lubricants, and biodiesel fuel are some of the many industrial items produced from soy. With these factors in mind, it’s no surprise that the crop’s popularity is rising.
- Tons of Nutritional Benefits
In addition to being touted as one of the most adaptable crops, soybeans also have several positive effects on human health, many of which have yet to be widely understood. It has a lot of protein, fiber, and antioxidants, yet are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and doesn’t contain any lactose.
High in protein and a good amount of both carbohydrates and fat, soy provides a lot of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and plant components like isoflavones, which are suitable for you. Soybeans have been linked to lower prostate and breast cancer incidence and may also help with menopause symptoms.
- Versatile Food Source
Soy is an easy-to-find ingredient in many delicious and simple dishes, from savory side dishes to sweet treats. And since it doesn’t have a potent taste, it’s a favorite among many. Dishes can be flavored, whichever the chef sees fit. For instance, like many other soy foods, tofu takes on the flavors of the foods they are prepared with. You can also use soy powder to boost the protein content of smoothies and other dishes. Tofu, flour, yogurt, textured vegetable protein, tempeh, and miso are just a few of the many meals that employ soy as an ingredient.
Over the years, numerous restaurants and food manufacturers have made concerted efforts to provide a wider variety of vegan-friendly options for their customers using soy.
- Animal Feed
Also known as soybean cake or soybean oil meal, soy is produced by grinding flakes that remain after oil is extracted from whole soymeal. It is a highly nutritious protein source and very palatable, making it a vital component of animal feeds for a wide variety of livestock worldwide. Soymeal provides exceptionally high protein content—up to 48% of crude protein.
- Sustainable Farm Crop
Soybeans are one of the most adaptable and resilient plants, and they are grown sustainably in the United States. When grown ethically, soy can be a reliable supply of plant-based protein as it contributes to a lower carbon footprint. For instance, rearing cattle for their meat demands 32 times as much space as growing soybeans for their protein content. On the other hand, you can make 40,000 servings of tofu or 9,500 liters of soy milk from just one acre of this plant. Eating soy products like tofu and tempeh as part of a well-rounded plant-based diet might mitigate some of the adverse effects of the current food system, such as its role in accelerating global warming.
Soybeans have a variety of use. The majority of farmers grow beans for animal feed or to make soybean oil. Soybean oil is used in cooking oil, which often retails as “vegetable oil,” as well as by the food industry in products and on menus. Soybean oil is a viable raw material for manufacturing rubber, lubricants, and adhesives. In addition, a small percentage of this legume is processed into food as a great source of protein, such as tofu, especially for vegans.