Plump, sweet soybeans called edamame make a tasty snack when eaten fresh, right out of the pod.
The soybean is a protein-rich member of the legume family. Native to East Asia, soybeans are now cultivated across the globe thanks to their adaptability to a number of climates. Soybeans have taken the U.S. by storm alongside nutrition and vegetarian movements, and they can be eaten on their own or used to make an impressive array of food products.


The soybean has been important in Asian cultures for 5,000 years, even hailed as a sacred grain by the Chinese Emperor Sheng-Nung (2853 B.C.) alongside barley, millet, rice and wheat.

Although brought to the United States in 1900, it took a while for Americans to begin growing soybeans as livestock feed, then as soil-replenishers, and finally, in the 1940s, as a food crop for people.


Soybeans, when fully matured in the pod, are dry and hard. They cannot be digested in their raw form and must first be soaked and cooked. Most fully-matured soybeans are yellow, but there are also green, black and brown varieties that are much less common. There is no notable nutritional difference between these varieties.

Edamame are raw soybeans harvested when they are green, plump and sweet. They are sold frozen and shelled, and make a very tasty snack when eaten right out of the pod, salted or unsalted.

The beans are also made into a very diverse range of products:

Miso is a salty paste made from soybeans and a grain mixture, fermented and aged in wooden kegs for a time ranging from a few months to a few years. Miso is used as a condiment or as a liquid base for soups and sauces.

Soy flour is a gluten-free flour that can fulfill some of the purposes of other flour. However, it is more sensitive to heat than other flours and shouldn’t be used for sautéed dishes or recipes that would subject it to extreme heat.

Soy meat imitations (soy dogs, soy burgers, soy coldcuts soy jerky, etc.) are processed soy products based on isolated soy protein, which is less nutritious than the proteins found in other forms of soy. These convenience foods are becoming increasingly available in large, vegetarian-friendly grocery stores and markets.

Soy mayonnaise is a soybean-based vegan substitute for egg-based mayonnaise and is significantly less fattening.

Soy milk is made by soaking soybeans, grinding them with water, and cooking the resulting creamy liquid. Widely available in grocery stores, most soy milk is fortified with calcium and vitamins and contains thickening agents to give it a texture similar to cow’s milk. It is lactose-free and thus popular with people who can’t handle cow’s milk. Yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, ice cream, and cheeses are also made in soy varieties.

Soy infant formula is made from an isolated soy p