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How Soybeans are Used as Food

By Dr. Harold Willis

The versatile soybean has many uses as human food. It is used in a large variety of prepared or processed foods. Here we will review ways people often use edible soybeans in the home.


Soybeans contain more protein than lean meat. Two pounds of soybeans supply the protein equivalent of 5 pounds of boneless beef, 15 quarts of milk, 6 dozen eggs or 4 pounds of cheese. Soybean protein is the only complete plant protein; that is, it contains all of the amino acids essential for human health. However, it is somewhat low in the amino acids methionine and cystine, but these can be supplemented by eating whole grains (wheat, rye, brown rice, etc.), fish or casein (milk protein).

If the beans are picked just after the pod is filled out (when the pod is plump and green), they can be cooked as a green vegetable, similar to lima beans. Courtesy How to Grow Super Soybeans

Soybeans are low in calories. One serving (one-half cup) has only about 100 calories, far less than a serving of meat. Soybeans are excellent for a diabetic diet, since they contain virtually no starch (1 to 3%; the carbohydrates they do contain are complex sugars).

Soybeans are low in cholesterol, but rich in polyunsaturated fats. They also contain high amounts of lecithin and linoleic acid, which have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels. The soluble fiber content of soybeans has also been found to help lower cholesterol (the harmful kinds of cholesterol are reduced, not the beneficial kinds that the body needs).

Cooked soybeans are nearly flavorless, allowing them to be blended into many dishes or used as extenders. Many different textures of soybean products are available, from “milk” to paste to flakes to cake to flour. Sprouted soybeans are rich in vitamin C as well as other vitamins and minerals. The cost is very low compared to animal meat—a true nutritional bargain.

Here are some ways you can use soybeans as food (from The Soybean Book, 1978):

Fresh Soybeans

If the beans are picked just after the pod is filled out (when the pod is plump and green), they can be cooked as a green vegetable, similar to lima beans. They can be shelled or cooked in the pod. Their flavor is rich and nutty. They are rich in vitamin A and the B vitamins. For best food value, cook within two hours of picking. Cook in a small amount of salted water for 10 to 20 minutes (or 25 to 30 minutes in the pod—do not eat the pod).

Dried Soybeans

Dried mature beans must first be soaked before cooking. Soak 24 hours in cold water. Refrigeration is necessary to prevent fermentation. Cook beans in their soaking water (it contains vitamins), either simmer for 4 to 5 hours in a saucepan (add water if needed), cook at 15 pounds for one hour in a pressure cooker, or simmer 8 to 12 hours in a slow cooker.

Cooked soybeans can be used sparingly along with grains or other vege­tables. They can be mashed and used as an extender in hamburgers and meat loaf. They can be put in a blender and added to bread or cookies.

Roasted Soybeans

Dried uncooked soybeans can be spread on shallow trays and roasted lightly in a 300 degree F. oven. They taste like peanuts and can be stored dried for a long time.

Soy Grits

Coarsely ground dried soybeans cook in about half the time of whole dried beans (see above) and have a meat-like texture. By adding meat broth and other flavorings (onion, tomato juice, soy sauce), a good meat sub­stitute can be prepared.

Soy Flour

Soy flour is a fine powder, rich in protein, with almost no starch or gluten. A small amount in wheat flour (no more than ¼ the amount of wheat flour) will keep bread soft and moist. In cookie, cake and pancake recipes, as much as one-half of the wheat flour may be replaced by soy flour. Lower the oven temperature about 25 degrees F., since soy flour browns more quickly than wheat flour. You can grind your own soy flour, but it is easier to buy it at health food stores. Keep it refrigerated in tight containers.

Soy Milk

Resembling cow’s milk, soy milk is good for people who can­not digest or are allergic to cow’s milk. Soy milk contains as much protein as cow’s milk, but less calcium. The easiest way to make soy milk is to gradually stir 8 cups of cold water into 2 cups of soy flour. Let stand for two hours. Heat to simmering in the top of a double boiler, then lower heat, cover and cook 40 minutes. Cool slightly and strain through cheesecloth. Add 4 tablespoons sugar (or honey), 4 tablespoons cooking or salad oil and ½ teaspoon salt; mix thoroughly in a blender. Add cold water to make two quarts soy milk. Keep tightly covered in a refrigerator; use in a few days.

Soy Sprouts

Sprouted dried soybeans are a very nutritious fresh vegetable that can be steamed, fried, creamed, or used fresh in salads, soups, stews or casseroles. Sprouts are rich in vitamin C, protein and minerals, and are easy to grow.

One pound of soybeans will produce six pounds of sprouts, enough to serve 35 to 40 people, so use small amounts (one-third cup of beans will produce two cups of sprouts). Rinse the dried beans with water and put into a suitable container (a glass or plastic jar is fine) and cover with water overnight at room temperature. Pour off the water, rinse with fresh water and cover the container with cheesecloth to allow air circulation but retain moisture. Keep in a dark, warm (70 to 80 degrees F.) place for 4 to 5 days. Rinse with fresh water several times a day and turn the container over to stir up the sprouts. Refrigerate 2 to 3 days before eating. Use within 3 to 4 days.

Besides being used fresh or cooked, soy sprouts can also be dried (on a cookie sheet in a dry, well-ventilated place or in a 150 degree F. oven) and chopped or ground. They have a nutty flavor and can be used to add flavor to many foods.

Soy Curd (Tofu)

Soy curd is curdled soy milk made by adding an acid or mineral salts (calcium sulfate) to the milk. You can buy it at health food stores or make your own (use one tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice for each quart of soy milk and leave in a warm place until it thickens; cut into chunks and slowly heat to boiling in a double boiler; cool for 10 minutes and strain out liquid through cheesecloth). The softer curd can be drained or pressed to give a firmer texture, then sliced if desired. Salt, pepper or herbs can be added for flavoring.

When creamed in a blender, soft tofu can be used in salad dressings, pud­dings, dips, pie fillings and sauces. It makes an excellent, digestible baby food (add vegetables or flavoring). Tofu can replace the eggs in quiche or some or all of the ground beef in meatloaf. Sliced drained tofu can be breaded and fried or baked as a meat substitute. Chunks of tofu can be used in soups, casseroles or stir-frys. It can be scrambled like eggs. Frozen tofu has a chewy, meaty texture when thawed and squeezed to remove water.

There is growing concern about excessive reliance on soybeans, especially among children, because of the phytoestrogens present. Nonetheless, the soy­bean is a useful food, particularly when fermented.

Source: How to Grow Super Soybeans