April is National Soy Month, making it a great time to explore and celebrate the versatile uses of soy. Many foods are derived from soy, including soy milk, miso paste, tempeh, tofu, and edamame. Although the United States is the world’s largest producer of soybeans, the largest soybean farm, Good Futaru, is located in Brazil and owns 555,000 acres of soybeans. From edibles to other uses, the small but mighty soybean has a lot to offer. Here are five cool things you didn’t know about soy.
Soy is part of the legume family, just like peas, lentils and beans. It is believed that he was first locally grown in ancient China, soybeans were used for thousands of years in Asia before coming to America in 1804. By the mid-1900s, they were a major part of agriculture in the Midwest and South. The soybean plant can reach heights of 6.5 feet and has self-fertile flowers. The flowers are only about a quarter inch tall and can be purple, white, or pink. Although not all flowers are produce pods, 50 to 80% do. Seed color varies, but in commercial production most are tan or brown. In the United States, soybean production for 2021 reached a record total of 4.44 billion bushels – including record yields in 21 states.
There are soy sauce artisans
Although originating in China, the soy sauce industry grew and flourished during the Edo period with exports beginning in the late 1730s. Although there are slight variations, Japanese soy sauce comes primarily from soybeans and wheat which are fermented using koji mold. There are families in Japan who have been making soy sauce for hundreds of years using traditional production methods – including the use of wooden barrels called “kioke”. This is very serious craftsmanship, creating what is considered an artisan quality product. There is even an annual koke festival held on the island of Shodoshima. Attendees are soy sauce producers, chefs and makers of other fermented products, and anyone who appreciates and wishes to preserve the Kioke culture.
Soy is used to make biodiesel
Biodiesel is a type of biodegradable and renewable fuel, mainly derived from vegetable oils and sometimes animal fats or algae. Rarely used on its own, biodiesel is blended with regular diesel. Biodiesel releases fewer carbon emissions than petroleum diesel and does not contain toxic sulfur or carcinogenic benzene. Used in city and state vehicle fleets, biodiesel is also used by the US military, in manufacturing and agricultural equipment, and in the construction industry. While there are benefits to biodiesel, there are also disadvantages. It is susceptible to thickening (called “gelling”) in cold weather. This can damage vehicle filters and hoses. Biodiesel is also more expensive and offers lower fuel efficiency than regular diesel.
Soy is (mainly) good for your health
There are health benefits soy, which provides a good source of heart-healthy fats, fibre, potassium and iron, among other things. Soy has also been shown to slightly lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and help relieve symptoms of menopause. It may also have a protective effect against cancer of the prostate and digestive tract. And although there have been concerns about soy consumption leading to breast cancer, no proof yet to substantiate the assertion. In fact, studies show that the risk of breast cancer may actually decrease. Containing isoflavones, which are estrogen-like compounds, soy can become an endocrine disruptor when consumed in large amounts. It is recommended to avoid highly processed soy products and stick to those that do not contain added sugar, preservatives or excess sodium. People with thyroid problems should be especially careful with soy and consult their doctor before consuming.
Soy crayons are a thing
Most crayons are made from petroleum-based paraffin, some of which contain lead, although at a level deemed safe for toys. Soy pencils offer an alternative. They were invented by a Purdue University student Jocelyn Wong and his team in a soybean innovation competition. The team ended up selling the rights to a manufacturer, who still produces them. They contain 85% soybean oil and are available in packages of different sizes, just like regular pencils. Soy pencils glide on smoothly, don’t chip, and are vibrant and shiny. They are also eco-friendly, non-toxic and made from a renewable source. A variant is the soy pencil rock, created by a former special education teacher. She wanted to create something that would help kids with special needs develop their fine motor skills. The shape of the “rocks” encourages children to use their thumb, index and middle finger, which is called a tripod.