Soybeans, also called soya beans, soja beans and Manchurian beans, are highly valued as an inexpensive source of protein and an important industrial raw material. They were cultivated by the ancient Chinese many hundreds of years ago and are referred to in records dating back as far as 2000 B.C., when they were considered one of the five sacred grains essential to Chinese civilization.
Europeans did not become aware of the soybean until the eighteenth century and even then it was not thought of as having any food value. In recent years the value of these beans has become more fully appreciated and it is now thought that they may be a means of solving the food problems of many undernourished peoples of the world.
Already in Asian countries soybeans supply much of the protein that in the Western world is derived from dairy products and meat. The protein in soya flour is equivalent to more than twice that of the same weight of meat. Minerals and vitamins are also contained in soybeans together with one of the best balances of amino acids of any vegetable protein.
Soybeans may be eaten fresh, canned or frozen, cooked as baked beans, sprouted as bean shoots or ground into flour. They are manufactured into margarine, soy butter, cheese, milk, cream, curd, diabetic food flavorings, infant foods, macaroni, spaghetti, noodles, meat substitutes, coffee substitutes, soups, beverages and frozen desserts. The oil may be used in cooking or for salads and mayonnaise, or in the manufacture of soaps, cleaning compounds, stains, inks, plastics, glycerine, celluloid, paints, enamels, varnishes, linoleums, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
After extraction of oil, a meal or oilcake is manufactured as a livestock food. The soybean plant may be used as a green manure or as a pasture crop for cattle, sheep or pigs. It also makes good fodder.