Soy is a popular legume of Asian origin. People who follow a vegetarian diet often use soy to replace meat. However, there is some controversy surrounding the benefits and risks of consuming soy, as some producers now genetically modify the plant.

Soybeans are healthful and rich in protein, giving them numerous nutritional uses. People can eat them, drink them in milk alternatives, and take them in the form of supplements. Manufacturers may also extract the oil from soy and use it to make ecologically friendly fuel, as well as candles, crayons, and engine lubricants. Soybeans are a high protein plant food that people can prepare and eat in a variety of ways. They belong to the pea family.

Soybeans come in many colors, including:

  • Green soybeans: Young green soybeans are also called edamame. People can steam them and eat them out of the pod as an appetizer. Shelled edamame is also available in salads, stir-fries, and soups.
  • Yellow soybeans: Producers typically use yellow soybeans to make soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and tamari. They also play a role in the production of soy flour for baking.
  • Black soybeans: Several Asian food cultures use simmered or fermented black soybeans in traditional dishes.

Soy milk and cheese are also options for those looking to replace dairy in the diet.

Soybeans also provide soy oil, which people can use for cooking or as an ingredient. After removing the oil from soybeans, people can use the remaining material to make food for farm animals and pets.

Some manufacturers make protein powder and isoflavone supplements from soy. Isoflavones are plant compounds that have a similar structure to estrogen.

Less processed organic soy is the most healthful option. Some examples include:

  • cooked soybeans
  • edamame
  • soy milk
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • soy nuts


Soy is a complete protein. This means that it contains all nine essential amino acids. It is an important source of protein for many people, especially those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 100 grams (g) of cooked green soybeans without salt contain:

  • 141 kilocalories
  • 12.35 g of protein
  • 6.4 g of fat
  • 11.05 g of carbohydrate
  • 4.2 g of fiber

Soybeans are low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin C, and folate. They are also a good source of:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • thiamin

The nutritional content of other soy products may vary based on how manufacturers have processed them and which ingredients they have added.


Chemical Involvment

In terms of production we can differentiate soybeans by one major factor – GMO’s. The major development in soybean agriculture over the last decade has been genetically modified (GM) soybeans. Since being marketed and promoted by Monsanto beginning in 1996, their first GM variety, Roundup Ready, has been adopted by most U.S. growers and is now planted on 90% of U.S. soybean acres

Non-GMO soybeans are soybeans that do not have genetic engineering and still have natural properties.Non-GMO soybeans have traditionally been used to make soy food products such as tofu, miso, and soymilk, while GM soybeans have been used for animal feed or processed into oil and soybean meal.

Because non-GMO soybeans are primarily used for human consumption whereas the GM variety is found mostly in livestock feed, there is extra work and attention to detail required of the non-GMO producer. For growers, there is an additional effort in growing non-GMO soybeans to food grade, and most producers would say that growing non-GMO soybeans carries greater risk because it is more difficult to ensure good agronomic outcomes with more limited tools – such as weed control products, for that reason, non-GMO beans tend to attract a premium which compensates the farmer for the extra effort and risk they take. That premium is critical, because if it’s too low, producers won’t see the value in growing non-GMO soybeans and shortages can result. As with many things these days, it’s all about supply and demand.
Non-GMO soybean growers need to avoid contamination from GMO soybeans. It requires a bit more of a checklist. That means not seeding in fields that might have GMO volunteers, and cleaning augers, belt conveyors, bins, seeders and combines. Variety selection is important too if iron chlorosis is a potential problem. Some non-GMO varieties are more tolerant than others.

Generally speaking, GMO refers to any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods and other products, and are widely used in scientific research.

The GMO soybean is one of the most widely used genetically modified plants in the world today. Also referred to as the Roundup Ready (RR) soybean, it was developed by the biotech giant Monsanto and made commercially available to farmers in 1996. It was created largely to let the plant survive being sprayed with the non-selective herbicide, Roundup, which can kill conventional soybean plants.

Consumers sometimes attribute GMO foods to a lack of sustainability and safety, but these foods represent the exact opposite. GMOs have been highly researched and analyzed for safety and are deemed safe for consumption in the U.S. Scientific evidence shows they do not have any adverse effects when eaten. In addition, GMO crops are beneficial in farming practices, as they can help increase crop yields and reduce pesticide use. Farmers choose to use GMOs as time- and labor-savers on their end; in addition, there are both economic and environmental benefits to using GMO crops.


Global soy production has exploded over the past 50 years. Global production today is more than 13 times higher than it was in the early 1960s. Even since the year 2000, production has more than doubled.

According to “Our World in Data” Global soy production has exploded over the past 50 years. Global production today is more than 13 times higher than it was in the early 1960s. Even since the year 2000, production has more than doubled. 

Most of the world’s soy comes from only two countries: the US and Brazil. Combined, they account for more than two-thirds (69%) of global soy production.2 In fact, they produce almost exactly the same amount: in 2018 the US produced 123 million tonnes, and Brazil 118 million tonnes. Individually, they each account for around one-third of global production. The other major producer is Argentina, which accounts for 11% (at 40 million tonnes).

One-fifth of the world’s soy is used for direct (i.e. not from meat and dairy) human consumption. Most of this is first processed into soybean oil. Typical soy products such as tofu, soy milk, tempeh and edamame beans account for just 7% of global demand.

Soy can also be used for industrial purposes. Around 4% is used for biofuels, lubricants and other industrial processes. Biodiesel alone accounts for 2.8%.

Global meat production has more than tripled over the last 50 years. This increase has been most marked for poultry – the largest consumer of soy feed.

Click on image to zoom in Soybean specifications below


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