Fresh and Dried [Bhatt (India); Glycine max]

Soybeans are probably native to China and have been important to agriculture there since the earliest times - but not as a food crop. The beans were planted as a fallow field rotation crop to fix nitrogen and restore fertility to the fields, then plowed under. The photo specimens include whole fresh pods, fresh beans (edamame), dried white beans, black beans, and our ever present red kidney bean for scale.

Much is made in health food circles of soy's (almost) "complete protein". This claim is true, but it would be a lot more useful if the soybean was actually edible rather than shot through with toxins, mineral blockers, vegetable hormone analogs and the like. The plants developed these specifically to fight animal predation - and we are animals.

In China, during the Chou Dynasty (1132-246 BCE), a method of fermenting soybeans to detox them was developed, resulting in the paste we now know as Miso, and similar products. A little later a method was developed to make a soybean cheese from finely ground soybeans by precipitating solids with a salt - the product we know as tofu. Most, (but not all) of the toxins are discarded with the liquid. Fresh soybeans see limited use as appetizers and soybean sprouts see fair use but not so much as mung bean sprouts.

Contrary to popular belief in the US, Asians eat soy products, including tofu and sprouts, only in moderation and not as a really significant part of their diets. Unprocessed soybeans have only been much eaten in times of famine.

The vast bulk of soybean production is used to produce oil which may be used as cooking oil or for other purposes. This oil is high in polyunsaturates so exposure to heat should be strictly limited. Once the oil has been chemically extracted the solids left are used for animal feed and as the basis for many modern soy products, some of controversial safety.

It has recently been reported that animals fed this mash from GMO soybeans are showing a significant increase in infertility and spontaneous abortions. More study is needed - study not financed by Monsanto or the soybean industry.

Dried Soybeans
Soy Sprouts Dried soybeans are easily available in Asian markets, particularly Korean markets, but are seldom cooked as such because of various toxins, mineral blockers and other problems. They really aren't that tasty anyway. They may be sprouted or processed in various ways into other soy foods (see below).

Soybean Sprouts
Soy Sprouts These sprouts are considerably larger than the familiar mung bean sprouts, firmer, have more flavor, and can stand longer cooking. They are easily available in most Asian markets, particularly Korean markets, because Koreans use them for a popular side dish, in soups and with rice. I have not seen any claims that they contain significant amounts of the endocrine disrupters of mature beans, but they do have a higher concentration of phytic acid than unsprouted beans, a substance which reduces mineral absorbtion. Again - moderation.

Soybean sprouts should be crisp with bright yellow tops and white stems with no evidence of wilting or discoloration. Refrigerate them in their plastic bag - rinse just before using. They'll keep a couple of days at most. Koreans insist any seed skins be removed and that the thread-like root tail also be removed before use in a recipe. This is tedious so Korean markets often stock bags of sprouts with the tails already cut off.

Soy Pods These are soybean pods, not quite mature, often steamed or lightly boiled and served as appetizers in sushi bars. They are served as whole beans but you eat them by biting the pod so the beans eject into your mouth. They have been promoted in North America as a healthy snack and are probably now eaten here much more than in Japan.

Unfortunately, they are reported to contain the same endocrine disrupters and anti-nutrients as more mature beans, but in somewhat lower concentration. These substances easily survive the light cooking these beans are usually subjected to. On the other hand, eaten just occasionally and in moderation they are not dangerous - but some people are overusing them as a "healthy" snack food. Also 90% of soybeans grown in North America are GMO and sprayed with Glyphosphate. The GMO form and the Glyphosphate are the real dangers with soy. You can find Edamame in plastic bags in the frozen foods section of most supermarkets, and Yuppie targeting markets have piles of them.

Soy Shell Beans - Edamame
Fresh Green Soy Beans Fresh Soy Shell Beans are used in some Chinese recipes. Keep in mind that unfermented soy has never been much eaten in Asia due to endocrine disrupters and anti-nutrients, but as an occasional ingredient they should not be a health problem. They are not as widely available as the Edamame in the pod due to not having the Yuppie connection of in-the-pod, but you can find them in plastic bags in the frozen foods section of Asian markets. The photo specimens averaged 0.65 inch long, 0.34 inch wide and 44 to the ounce. They were purchased from a large Asian market in Los Angeles (Alhambra), product of China.

Soybean Products - and Other Information

Soybeans are the basis for a great many products, both traditional and modern. Some are generally considered safe and others are suspect of being less than ideal.

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