Soybeans Essay

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Soybeans , which are called soya in the United Kingdom or soja beans elsewhere, are a highly nutritious legume that is one of the world’s oldest crops. The beans grow on a bushy annual herb that has hairy trifoliate leaves. The flowers of the soybean plant are purple to pink in color. The soybean plant, native to Asia, is related to alfalfa, clover, and peas. Soybeans were probably first grown in eastern China over 5,000 years ago. The Chinese Emperor Sheng-Nung named five sacred plants in 2853 B.C.E.: rice, wheat, barley, millet, and the soybean. From that time soybean cultivation spread to Burma, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

When Europeans voyaged to the Far East during the Age of Discovery, they saw soybeans under cultivation. Soybeans were introduced into Europe through France in the 1700s; however, it was not until the 1900s that they were grown widely in Western countries.

In the late 1800s, farmers in the United States began to cultivate soybeans. In 1904, George Washington Carver conducted experiments on soybeans. He discovered that they were rich in protein and oil, and could withstand the hot dry summers of the southern United States. In the 1900s the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began to conduct tests on soybeans and to encourage farmers to plant the crop. In the late 1920s, William J. Morse of the USDA was a leader in the Dorsett-Morse Expedition to East Asia, where they collected over 10,000 varieties of soybeans. In the 1940s, soybean production in the United States boomed.

The United States is the leading producer of soybeans in the world, followed closely by Brazil, whose exports increase annually, often through the expansion of agriculture into forested lands. It exports about half of its annual crop. The economic impact of soybean production for farmers is great. Soybeans are the third largest of the crops grown in the United States, behind wheat and corn, and they are grown in over 30 American states. In 2004, production was 74 million metric tons of soybeans. The soybeans grown today are hybrids that have been produced to increase yields and for their insect and disease resistant qualities. The cultivated soybean is usually Glycine max, a legume of the pea family. A small percentage of soybeans are the vegetable variety; these may be eaten as a bean or used to produce bean sprouts.

Soybeans are an annual warm weather crop. They are planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed and are harvested before frosts come in the autumn. They grow to about two to four feet tall. About eight weeks after planting, the soybean plant will issue small flowers. Many will produce pods with two or three beans per pod. The normal time from planting to harvest is three or three and a half months. Most soybeans are commercial soybeans that are used in making soy flour or oil. Until 1900 the main use of soybeans was for animal forage. Beginning in the early 1900s, they were processed into oil and meal. Until the 1930s, the meal was used as fertilizer. By the 1940s, soybean meal was being used to feed poultry and livestock. It also began to be used in some pet foods as well. After the 1960s, scientists developed a number of new soy products, including soymilk, spun soy, soy protein concentrate isolated soy protein, and other soy derivatives. Soymilk is often used to feed infants who are lactose intolerant.

Soybeans are an excellent source of protein. Soybeans will yield 10 times as much protein per acre as will cattle grazing. Most consumption of soybeans is after some processing into meal or oil. Grinding soybeans very finely produces soy flour that can be used in baby foods, breads, cereals, and low calorie foods. It is also used as a low-cost feedstock for fish, swine, cattle, chickens, and other animals. Other uses for soy flour include the manufacture of tofu and brewed soy sauce. In addition, some industrial products such as plastics, wood adhesives, and textile fabrics are made from soybeans. Soy grits are coarse-ground soybeans. They are used to produce products aimed at vegetarians that look like cuts of meat. Soybean oil is now the leading vegetable oil in the world. Soy oil is used in margarine, mayonnaise, and in salad dressing. It is also used as a carrier in some inks and paints and as an environmentally friendly lubricant in diesel engines.


  1. R. Boerma and J.E. Specht, Soybeans: Improvement, Production and Uses (ASA-CSSA-SSSA, 2004);
  2. Stephen Holt, The Soy Revolution: The Food of the Next Millennium (M. Evans, 1998);
  3. P. Houck, M.E. Ryan, and Abraham Subotnik, Soybeans and Their Products: Markets, Models and Policy (University of Minnesota Press, 1972);
  4. Keshun Liu, Soybeans: Technology and Utilization (Aspen Publishers, 1997);
  5. P. Verma and R.C. Shoemaker, eds., Soybean: Genetics, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (CAB International, 1996).

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