Ah, soy. A widely used crop that's been around the western world for about 300 years, and for thousands of years in Asia. In today's article, I'll be shedding some light on this wonder-crop; how much we rely on it, its many uses, as well as the impact it has on the world today.
A brief introduction to the soybean. As mentioned earlier, the soybean has been around for ages in the western world, and much much longer in Asia. In China, soybeans have been used for 5000 years, with their uses for it ranging from enriching the soil with nitrogen, to using it for food.
Soybeans are primarily used for human consumption. Tofu and Soymilk aside, your french fries could have been deep-fried in soy oil, and you'd probably be able to find soy protein in your burger bun; you'll discover that soy can be found in many of the foods we consume. In the US, 60% of refined foods contain traces of soy. But it doesn't stop there. Soy is also being used for many other things, which you will soon find out.
Several uses for soybeans
Here, I'll be listing down just a few interesting uses for soy. Because I'm sure I've already made it clear that we use soybeans for food, I'll be leaving that out.
With the traditional petroleum wax being substituted by pure soybean oil, soy crayons have brighter, smoother colours with no waxy flaking. They are also non-toxic and more environmentally friendly.
2. Building materials
"Environ" is a product containing 45% soybean flour and 45% recycled newspaper. It appears to look like granite and has the physical properties of wood. Currently, we use this for making things like furniture and awards. Apart from Environ, there are many other types of building materials containing soy, such as particleboard, laminated plywood and finger-jointed lumber.
With soybeans once again replacing petroleum as a base, soy ink are sharper and produce better colour quality. Also, they do not create harmful fumes upon drying, unlike their petroleum-based counterparts.
Developed by three University students, petroleum oil was once more replaced by soybean oil to create these dripless and edible candles.
Today, soy-based foam is being developed for use in things like fridges, shoes, and automotive interiors. In 2007, Ford Mustangs were built with this foam in their seats.
6. Lubricants and Hydraulic fluids
Unlike their petroleum-based counterparts, soy-based lubricants and hydraulic fluids do not cause any damage to the environment when spilled because it can be biodegraded. They are also non-toxic, and soy-based lubricants can withstand higher temperatures.
Soybeans not only have many uses, but they have also been found to be a better alternative for dairy products (in the context that soy protein is 13 times more energy-efficient than organic dairy protein). Soybeans are also great crops as they have the natural ability to fix their own nitrogen, thus requiring very little nitrogen fertilizer. It also makes soybeans an excellent rotation crop.
The soy debate
Furthermore, research has found that despite soy being well-known for its high nutritional content, there have been various problems found circulating the crop. It has been found that soy contains some antinutrients, such as hemagglutinins that clump red blood cells and suppress growth. Antinutrients can be deactivated through fermentation, but soy products like tofu, which have been processed via precipitation, only have some of these antinutrients deactivated. Other toxic aspects of the soybean include the promotion of breast cancer later in life, anti-thyroid properties, and the shrinking of the brain.
Another interesting fact; soy not only is a great source of protein, but it is also an excellent source of the female reproductive hormone, oestrogen. Too much of this hormone will have different results. For females, this could lead to ovarian cancer or breast cancer; and as for males, this could lead to the suppression of masculinity. But also bear in mind the fact that to get to such a high level of oestrogen, one would have to consume three 12-ounce glasses of soy milk - an amount most people do not consume. On another note, research has also shown that by feeding babies soy formula, you're giving him or her the equivalent of five birth control pills a day, something a baby's endocrine system can't deal with.
Nothing's perfect. And just like everything else, soy is no exception. Until now, the health benefits of soy are still highly debated. In my opinion, the safest thing to do is to moderate the amount of soy you use/ consume, and always remember that there are always traces of soy in the other foods you eat to avoid over-consumption.