Why Eat It
Native to East Asia, soybeans have been a major source of protein for people in
Asia for more than 5,000 years. Soybeans are high in protein (more than any
other legume) and fiber, low in carbohydrates and are nutrient-dense.
Phytochemicals in soybeans protect the heart against oxidation, inhibit blood
clot formation, function as antioxidants and also exert anti-inflammatory
actions. Soybeans, compared with other legumes, are higher in essential fatty
acids, and are a good source of calcium, magnesium, lecithin, riboflavin,
thiamin, fiber, folate (folic acid), and iron.
Studies have shown that soybeans may help to protect against osteoporosis; when
people eat soy foods in place of animal proteins, far less calcium is excreted.
As the protein in soybeans may inhibit iron absorption (as do other compounds in
soy called phytates), it is advisable to consume vitamin C along with soybeans
to increase iron absorption. Protein in soybeans may also be protective against
heart disease, and the isoflavones in soybeans may help to thwart development of
certain cancers. The nutritional magnitude of the versitile soybean is indeed
Soy protein is the only vegetable whose protein is complete. In fact, soy
protein has attracted quite a bit of attention recently due to its ability to
lower LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels. Emerging details from years of research
has prompted health professionals to request the government to officially give a
stamp of approval for soy's cholesterol-lowering effects. Indeed, the Food and
Drug Administration recently approved the cholesterol-lowering health claim for
soy, indicating that daily consumption of 25 grams of soy protein (6.5 grams of
soy protein per serving) may lower LDL cholesterol in those who have high
cholesterol and who follow a low fat diet.
Soybeans also are a rich source of isoflavones, plant chemicals that have mild
estrogenlike hormonal effects on the body. Genistein, an isoflavone in soybeans,
is being studied for its potential to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Genistein is also believed to prevent development of plaque that builds up
within the walls of coronary arteries. Another isoflavone in soybeans, daidzein,
may be helpful in reducing risk of osteoporosis by slowing the breakdown of
bone. Isoflavones are found not only in soybeans, but in some products derived
from soybeans, such as soy milk, tofu, and tempeh. Some processed soy products
may also have been fortified with isoflavones.
The three major types of soybeans are fresh immature (green) soybeans, known as
edamame, fresh mature soybeans, and dried soybeans.
Edamame: Edamame are sweet tasting large soybeans that are harvested
prematurely, when the beans are still green. Sweet and delicate in flavor,
edamame can be added to salads or soups or rice dishes.
Mature Soybeans: Mature soybeans are tan-colored and are harvested when they
have fully matured.
Dried Soybeans: Dried soybeans, which are available at most health-food stores,
are dense, pea-sized beans that require a long soaking before cooking.
Soy nuts: Soy nuts are roasted soybeans that resemble peanuts (like peanuts, soy
nuts are high in fat).
Edamame are generally available year round, They are most commonly sold frozen
in one-pound bags, but you may occasionally find them fresh and unfrozen. Look
for them in Asian markets.
Mature fresh soybeans are sold in or out of the pod and are available year
round. Look for them in Asian markets and local Chinatowns.
Dried soybeans can be found in health-food stores and some large supermarkets.
Soy nuts are generally sold in health-food stores. They are available salted and
When shopping for beans in the pod, look for firm pods, without any
discoloration. Beans sold out of the pod should be plump and firm, not withered
Shop for dried beans in stores with a brisk turnover and where the bins are
Green soybeans (edamame) should be refrigerated and used within two days. Frozen
edamame keep for several months. Mature soybeans should be refrigerated and used
within a few days. Dried soybeans can be kept in an airtight container for up to
Edamame (fresh or frozen) should be boiled in salted water or steamed in the pod
until piping hot, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve as an appetizer.
Mature soybeans should be boiled out of the pod until tender. As with any
soybean, they are best cooked with other ingredients that are strongly flavored,
since the soybeans themselves are not bringing much to the table.
Dried soybeans require overnight soaking and long slow cooking. They usually
require about three hours to become tender. Because they are mild in flavor,
they should be cooked with robust seasonings.
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