Ag 101 – Soybeans – Are They Really the Miracle Crop?

It’s called the “Cool Bean” and the “Super Soybean”, as well as the being referred to as the “Miracle Crop”.   What is so 5555special about this bean that is about the size of my pinky fingernail?

This mini mighty packed bean is used in a host of products – everything from soy milk and cooking oil to cosmetics and inks.  The soybean provides a sustainable source of protein and oil all over the world.  Did you know that during the Civil War, soldiers used soybeans instead of coffee beans to brew coffee?  Or that Henry Ford used parts for gearshift knobs, window trim and door handles derived from soybeans?  How about this one…that soy ink is used to print newspapers and textbooks?  Or that a compound coming from the soybean inhibits blood vessel development and then can inhibit tumor growth?  Wow, I am thoroughly amazed.

1024px-Multicolor_soybeans_in_Hale_TownshipAfter harvest, the soybeans are processed to be cleaned, cracked, de-hulled, and separated from the oil in the meal. In rupturing the oil cell, the oil can be extracted from the meal components. This oil can be used for a wide variety of things like margarine, salad dressings, and mayonnaise.  Other uses for the soy oil would be in canning sardines and tuna.  Many of our baked items like breads, cakes, pies and prepackaged good have been prepared with soy oil (most vegetable oil in stores is actually soybean oil).  Some more unique uses would be soy crayons, plastics and candles.  A natural emulsifier and lubricant called lecithin is DSC05538extracted from the soybean and used in pharmaceuticals and in your favorite candy bars to keep the chocolate and cocoa butter from separating.  After processing, the remaining soy flakes can be processed into a variety of products.  Products like soy protein or soy nuts using the dried portion of the bean.  Soybeans are the highest natural source of dietary fiber and soy flour is used in the commercial baking industry.  One very important use for soybeans Animal-Feed-251x190is as a protein rich base farmer’s use for animal feed.  Wow!  I had no idea the bean was so awesome!

Through research and technology as well as through the assistance from farmers, soy production is at an all-time high with more than 3.97 billion bushels grown in the United States this past year. But demand for soybean products continues to increase as well.

Soybeans are food for humans, food for animals, as well as biodiesel for engines. Biodiesel is a renewable fuel which is made from soybean oil and represents a growing industry and a growing demand for soybean Soybean_03production.  There are many advantages of using soybean oil for biodiesel, one important one is that it burns much cleaner than petroleum and is biodegradable and nontoxic.  Biodiesel is quite the soybean success story and Iowa is one of the country’s leading producers.

Soybeans are little beans with so many amazing uses I couldn’t begin to name them all.  Rarely a day will go by without the might soybean impacting your life and the products you eat and use!

– Sheri


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