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Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

Soyfood Profile

By Ray Hansen, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, hansenr@iastate.edu

Updated July 2012 by Malinda Geisler, AgMRC, Iowa State University.



Oilseeds are a key component of the world food supply. Soybeans (Glycine max) are the leading oilseed, accounting for 56 percent of all oilseeds produced in 2011. U.S. soybeans accounted for 33 percent of world soybean production, down from the previous year, while Brazil accounted for 29 percent and Argentina for 19 percent. (Soy Stats)

Soybeans are grown primarily for their protein content for animal and human food and secondarily for vegetable oil for cooking and food manufacturing. A 60-pound bushel of soybeans yields about 48 pounds of protein-rich meal and 11 pounds of oil or 1.5 gallons of biodiesel. The meal is processed into many food products. (Soy Stats)

As a versatile source of food, soybeans are the highest natural source of dietary fiber. Nine essential amino acids, which are necessary for human nutrition and are not naturally produced in the body, are found in soybeans. In 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the health claim that consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day, as part of a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.


Soybeans first arrived in the United States in 1804. When leaving China, sailors on a U.S. clipper ship brought the beans aboard as ballast and promptly dumped them upon arrival. U.S. farmers first planted soybeans in 1829, raising them for soy sauce and as forage for cattle. During World War II, the United States lost its supply of imported edible fats and oil, forcing processors to use soybean oil. In the early 1950s soybean meal became available as a low-cost, high-protein feed ingredient, giving U.S. livestock and poultry production a boost. Another new market for soybeans was launched more recently: the processing of soybean oil into soy biodiesel fuel. According to Soy Stats, 1,070 million gallons of biodiesel were produced in the United States during 2011, which was a new production record.


More soybeans are grown in the United States than anywhere else in the world. More than 3 billion bushels of soybeans were produced in 2011, down from 2010. The soybeans were harvested on 73.6 million acres. The yield averaged 41.5 bushels per acre.

While U.S. farmers grow soybeans in more than 30 states, production was dominated by five Midwestern states in 2011: Iowa (466 million bushels), Illinois (416 million bushels), Minnesota (270 million bushels), Nebraska (258 million bushels) and Indiana (238 million bushels) (Soy Stats).

The average price paid to U.S. farmers in 2011 was $11.70 per bushel. The value of U.S. soybean production in 2011 was $36.7 billion.

In terms of world supply, other major producers of soybeans in 2011 included Brazil (2,645 million bushels) and Argentina (1,764 million bushels).


Soybean processing yields a number of products. There are industrial applications as well as food and feed applications. Although they can be eaten whole after being boiled or roasted, most soybeans are transformed into a variety of foods.

In the main form of processing, or "crushing" as it is often called, the soybeans are cleaned, cracked, dehulled and rolled into flakes. The crushing process ruptures the oil cells for efficient extraction. The "crude" oil is removed with solvents or screw presses, and after further processing, the refined soybean oil goes into such products as margarine, salad dressings and cooking oils.

In 2011 the United States crushed 1,615 million bushels or nearly 44 million metric tons (MT) of soybeans, maintaining its rank as the world's largest processor of soybean products (Soy Stats). Argentina and Brazil were also large processors of soybeans.

Soy Meal
After the oil is extracted, the flakes are toasted and ground to produce soybean meal, most of which is used as a high-protein component of animal feeds. However, some of it is also processed into products for human consumption. These products include soy flour, soy protein concentrate and soy protein isolate, which can be incorporated into breads, cereals and snacks. In recent years, isoflavones and other phytochemicals found in the soybean meal portion have been found to have documented health benefits. These are now being extracted and marketed as nutriceuticals in functional foods. Of the soy meal fed to animals in 2011, 48 percent was fed to poultry and 26 percent to swine (Soy Stats).

Soy Oil
Soybean oil is a natural source of vitamin E. The portion of vitamin E that is extracted as part of the refining process is recovered and marketed with other vitamin supplements. Lecithin, also extracted from soybean oil, is used for everything from pharmaceuticals to protective coatings. Because it is a natural emulsifier and lubricant, lecithin can be used, for instance, to keep the chocolate and cocoa butter in a candy bar from separating. About 70 percent of the fats and oils consumed in the United States are of soy origin, with 58 percent of that oil being used as salad or cooking oil and 23 percent being used as baking or frying fats (Soy Stats 2011).

Sales and Trends

Soyfood sales in the United States hover around $5.0 billion. Despite the economic downturn, sales have continued to increase because of new soyfood introductions, consumer awareness of the health benefits associated with soy and the expansion of retail outlets for soyfoods, including Wal-Mart, club stores and foodservice operations.  

Since many consumers now incorporate soy into their diets and supermarkets have brought soyfoods to their shelves, new growth spurts for soy will come with more consumers making a commitment to following healthier diets and more consensus evidence linking soy with disease prevention. The wide variety of soyfoods will help consumers meet the 2005 Federal Dietary Guidelines that call for eating foods like soy that are high in fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, key vitamins and minerals, and lower in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.

From 2000 to 2007, food manufacturers in the United States introduced over 2,700 new foods with soy as an ingredient, including 161 new products introduced in 2007 alone (SANA). Four multinational corporations dominate the world trade in soybeans: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Company; Bunge Limited; Cargill, Inc.; and Louis Dreyfus Group. All of these corporations have soybean processing connections throughout the world (Soyatech).


The United States is the world's second largest exporter of soybeans following Brazil, exporting between 40 to 45 percent of its yearly soybean production. These exports are critical to the world market, accounting for 37 percent of the 2011 global trade in soybeans.

Since 2002, the United States has ranked third in soybean meal exports, following Argentina and Brazil. In 2011 Argentina provided 49 percent of the soybean meal traded on the world market and Brazil provided 24 percent. The United States provided 13 percent of the soybean meal traded globally.  (Soy Stats)

U.S. soybean exports totaled 1.3 billion bushels in 2011 and were valued at $17.6 billion. The top three destinations for U.S. soybeans were China, Mexico and Japan. China's soybean purchases totaled more than $10.4 billion and Mexico's purchases totaled $1.6 billion. Japan's soybean purchases were valued at $954 million. (Soy Stats)

Soy Meal
The value of U.S. soybean meal exports in 2011 totaled $2.7 billion. Canada surpassed Mexico to become the largest customer for U.S. soy meal, purchasing $375 million. Mexico purchased soy meal valued at $369 million. (Soy Stats)

Soy Oil
The United States is a minor player in the world soybean oil market because most U.S.-produced soy oil is consumed domestically. The value of U.S. soy oil exports in 2011 was $1.3 billion. Morocco was the largest customer for U.S. soybean oil with purchases of $336 million that year. Mexico became the second largest customer with purchases of $194 million. (Soy Stats)

Consumer Attitudes and Demand

In 2009, 84 percent of consumers viewed soy products as healthy, showing continued awareness of soy's benefits. One-third of consumers are aware of the Food and Drug Administration claim that consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. The use of soy isoflavones to prevent osteoporosis is also growing rapidly in fortified foods and nutritional supplements.

According to the Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition Report (United Soybean Board 2009), soyfoods sales reached $4 billion in 2008. For the sixth year in a row, consumers reported being most familiar with soymilk, soybean oil, tofu and soy veggie burgers. In fact, the soy product with the highest recorded sales was soymilk followed by energy bars. However, the soy product with the largest increase in sales was meat alternatives (8.3%) followed by tofu (4.9%).

What Does the Future Hold for the Demand of Soyfoods?

The market for soyfoods is predicted to increase. The traditional uses for soybean meal (high-protein animal feed) and soybean oil (edible and inedible uses) are expected to rise gradually, roughly at the pace of U.S. population growth. Soybeans for nontraditional uses such as renewable fuels and bioproducts are expected to increase more quickly.

Commercial development of a biodiesel industry has built up momentum and is becoming an important new source of demand for soybeans. Although biodiesel can be made from other oils and fats, soybean oil is the predominant raw material currently used in U.S. biodiesel production.

More industrial applications or food uses (such as soy isoflavones and soy beverages) for soybeans hold some promise for supporting prices through higher overall demand and/or premiums for value-enhanced characteristics.

Types of Soyfoods (listed alphabetically)

This section focuses on soybean foods. The soyfood descriptions below represent the most common soyfoods on the market today.  

Green Vegetable Soybeans (Edamamé)
These large soybeans are harvested when the beans are still green and sweet tasting. After being boiled in slightly salted water for 15 to 20 minutes, they can be served as a snack or a main vegetable dish. The beans are high in protein and fiber and contain no cholesterol. Edamame is more often found in Asian and natural food stores, shelled or still in the pod.  (Soyatech)

Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
HVP is a protein obtained from any vegetable, including soybeans. The protein is broken down into amino acids by a chemical process called acid hydrolysis. HVP is a flavor enhancer that can be used in soups, broths, sauces, gravies, flavoring and spice blends, canned and frozen vegetables, meats and poultry.

Infant Formulas, Soy-Based
Soy-based infant formulas are similar to other infant formulas except that a soy protein isolate powder is used as a base, instead of cow's milk. Carbohydrates and fats are added to achieve a fluid similar to breast milk.
Extracted from soybean oil, lecithin is used in food manufacturing as an emulsifier in products high in fats and oils. It also promotes stabilization, antioxidation, crystallization and spattering control. Powdered lecithins can be found in natural and health food stores.
Meat Alternatives (Meat Analogs)
Meat alternatives made from soybeans contain soy protein, or tofu, and other ingredients mixed together to simulate various kinds of meat. These meat alternatives are sold as frozen, canned or dried foods. Usually, they can be used the same way as the foods they replace. With so many different meat alternatives available to consumers, the nutritional value of these foods varies considerably. Generally, they are lower in fat but read the label to be certain. Meat alternatives made from soybeans are excellent sources of protein, iron and B vitamins. For more information, see the fact sheet by the Soyfoods Association of North America at: http://www.soyfoods.org/soy-information/soy-fact-sheets/

Miso is a rich, salty condiment that characterizes the essence of Japanese cooking. The Japanese make miso soup and use it to flavor a variety of foods. Miso, a smooth paste, is made from soybeans and a grain such as rice, plus salt and a mold culture, and then aged in cedar vats for one to three years. Miso should be refrigerated. Use miso to flavor soups, sauces, dressings, marinades and pâtés. For more information, see the fact sheet by the Soyfoods Association of North America at: http://www.soyfoods.org/information/soy-fact-sheets/

Natto is made of fermented, cooked whole soybeans. Because the fermentation process breaks down the beans' complex proteins, natto is more easily digested than whole soybeans. It has a sticky, viscous coating with a cheesy texture. In Asian countries, natto traditionally is served as a topping for rice, in miso soups and is used with vegetables. Natto can be found in Asian and natural food stores.

Nondairy Soy Frozen Dessert
Nondairy frozen desserts are made from soymilk or soy yogurt. Soy ice cream is one of the most popular desserts made from soybeans and can be found in natural food stores.

Soy Cheese
Soy cheese is made from soymilk. Its creamy texture makes it an easy substitute for sour cream or cream cheese and can be found in variety of flavors in natural food stores. Products made with soy cheese include soy pizza.

Soy Fiber (Okara, Soy Bran, Soy Isolate Fiber)
There are three basic types of soy fiber: Okara, soy bran and soy isolate fiber. All of these products are high-quality, inexpensive sources of dietary fiber.

Okara is a pulp fiber by-product of soymilk. It has less protein than whole soybeans, but the protein remaining is of high quality. Okara tastes similar to coconut and can be baked or added as fiber to granola and cookies. Okara also has been made into sausage. Look for okara in natural food stores.

Soy bran is made from hulls (the outer covering of the soybean) that are removed during initial processing. The hulls contain a fibrous material that can be extracted and then refined for use as a food ingredient.

Soy isolate fiber, also known as structured protein fiber (SPF), is soy protein isolate in a fibrous form.
Soy Flour
Soy flour is made from roasted soybeans ground into a fine powder. Three kinds of soy flour are available: (1) Natural or full-fat, which contains the natural oils found in the soybean; (2) Defatted, which has the oils removed during processing; and (3) Lecithinated, which has had lecithin added to it. All soy flour gives a protein boost to recipes. However, defatted soy flour is an even more concentrated source of protein than full-fat soy flour. Although used mainly by the food industry, soy flour can be found in natural food stores and some supermarkets. Soy flour is gluten-free so yeast-raised breads made with soy flour are more dense in texture. Replace 1/4 to 1/3 of the wheat flour with soy flour in recipes for muffins, cakes, cookies, pancakes and quick breads. For more information, see the fact sheet by the Soyfoods Association of North America at: http://www.soyfoods.org/soy-information/soy-fact-sheets/

Soy Grits
Soy grits are similar to soy flour except that the soybeans have been toasted and cracked into coarse pieces, rather than the fine powder of soy flour. Soy grits can be used as a substitute for flour in some recipes. High in protein, soy grits can be added to rice and other grains and cooked together.

Soy Protein Concentrate
Soy protein concentrate comes from defatted soy flakes. It contains about 70 percent protein, while retaining most of the bean's dietary fiber. Increasingly, food manufacturers recognize soy protein as a versatile food ingredient with functional and nutritional properties that greatly enhance the value of finished foods in every consumer category. Products containing soy protein can now be found in nearly every aisle of the supermarket, including baked good; breakfast cereals; pasta; meat, poultry and fish products; dairy-type products and milk blends.

Baked Goods
Soy protein is used in the manufacture of breads, cookies, crackers and other baked goods. Soy protein improves texture; holds moisture; creates cake richness; whitens bread; extends shelf life; reduces breakage and crumbling; enhances nutrition; improves manufacturing, handling and machine ability; and improves mouth feel and overall quality as perceived by the consumer.

Breakfast Cereals
Soy protein is used extensively as an ingredient in hot cereal mixes and breakfast bars to boost protein value and quantity.

Pasta products can be fortified with soy protein to increase nutritional value. Soy-fortified pastas with a 15 to 17 percent protein content are used today by the U.S. National School Lunch Program.

Meat, Poultry and Fish Products
Processed and whole meat products can be improved by adding soy protein, which provides the product flexibility and cost stability consumers demand. Adding soy protein to meat and poultry products can enhance moisture holding, texture, binding and cohesion, product yield, juiciness, protein quality, appetizing color and appearance, longer shelf life, palatability and total nutrition.

Dairy-Type Products
A number of dairy analog products have been developed with soy protein, including imitation milk, imitation cheese, non-dairy frozen desserts, coffee whiteners, yogurt and others. Soy protein lowers cost, improves nutrition and reduces allergenic response.

Milk Blends
Many companies produce soy and milk protein blends for food manufacturing. The two are often combined to offer a protein content similar to milk. The different blends are used as a complete or partial replacement for non-fat dry milk in baked goods, sauces, meat products and various fabricated foods. 

Soy Protein Isolates (Isolated Soy Protein)
When protein is removed from defatted flakes, the result is soy protein isolates, the most highly refined soy protein. Containing 92 percent protein, soy protein isolates possess the greatest amount of protein of all soy products. They are a highly digestible source of amino acids.

Beverages and Toppings
Soy isolates are used in coffee whiteners, liquid whipped toppings and pre-whipped toppings. They also are used in sour cream dressings to emulsify fat, control viscosity and provide textural characteristics. Instant beverages used as meal replacements often contain soy concentrates and soy isolates as a source of protein.

Soy Protein, Textured
Textured soy protein (TSP) usually refers to products made from textured soy flour, although the term can also be applied to textured soy protein concentrates and spun soy fiber.

Textured soy flour (TSF) is made by running defatted soy flour through an extrusion cooker, which allows for many different forms and sizes. When hydrated, it has a chewy texture. It is widely used as a meat extender. One of the more popular brands of TSF is made by Archer Daniels Midland Company, which owns the right to the product named Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP).

Textured soy flour contains about 70 percent protein and retains most of the bean's dietary fiber. Often referred to simply as textured soy protein (TSP), textured soy flour is sold dried in granular and chunk style. It can be found in natural food stores and through mail-order catalogs. For more information, see the fact sheet by the Soyfoods Association of North America at: http://www.soyfoods.org/soy-information/soy-fact-sheets/

Soy Sauce (Tamari, Shoyu, Teriyaki)
Soy sauce is a dark brown liquid made from soybeans that have undergone a fermenting process. Soy sauces have a salty taste but are lower in sodium than traditional table salt. Specific types of soy sauce are: shoyu, tamari and teriyaki. Shoyu is a blend of soybeans and wheat. Tamari is made only from soybeans and is a by-product of making miso. Teriyaki sauce can be thicker than other types of soy sauce and includes other ingredients such as sugar, vinegar and spices.

Soy Yogurt
Soy yogurt is made from soymilk. Its creamy texture makes it an easy substitute for sour cream or cream cheese. Soy yogurt can be found in a variety of flavors in natural foods stores.

Soybeans, Whole
As soybeans mature in the pod, they ripen into a hard, dry bean. Most soybeans are yellow. However, there are brown and black varieties. Whole soybeans (an excellent source of protein and dietary fiber) can be cooked and used in sauces, stews and soups. Whole soybeans that have been soaked can be roasted for snacks and can be purchased in natural food stores and some supermarkets. When grown without agricultural chemicals, they are referred to as organically grown soybeans. For more information, see the fact sheet by the Soyfoods Association of North America at: http://www.soyfoods.org/products/soy-fact-sheets/

Soymilk, Soy Beverages
Soybeans that have been soaked, ground fine and strained produce a fluid called soybean milk, which is a good substitute for cow's milk. Plain, unfortified soymilk is an excellent source of high-quality protein, B vitamins. Soymilk is most commonly found in aseptic containers (non-refrigerated, shelf stable), but also can be found in quart and half-gallon containers in the dairy case at the supermarket. Soymilk is also sold as a powder that must be mixed with water. For more information, see the fact sheet by the Soyfoods Association of North America at: http://www.soyfoods.org/soy-information/soy-fact-sheets/

Soynut Butter
Made from roasted, whole soynuts that are then crushed and blended with soyoil and other ingredients, soynut butter has a slightly nutty taste, significantly less fat than peanut butter and provides many other nutritional benefits as well. Soynut butter can be found in a few supermarkets or through mail-order companies. For more information, see the fact sheet by the Soyfoods Association of North America at: http://www.soyfoods.org/soy-information/soy-fact-sheets/

Roasted soynuts are whole soybeans that have been soaked in water and then baked until browned. Soynuts can be found in a variety of flavors, including chocolate covered. High in protein and isoflavones, soynuts are similar in texture and flavor to peanuts. You can find roasted soynuts in natural food stores and through mail-order catalogs.

Soyoil and Products
Soyoil is the natural oil extracted from whole soybeans. Soybean oil's use in manufactured food products is widespread, making it the world's most widely used edible oil. It is also the most widely used oil in the United States, accounting for about two-thirds of total consumption of vegetable fat and oil intake. Oil sold in the grocery store under the generic name "vegetable oil" is usually 100 percent soyoil or a blend of soyoil and other oils. Soyoil is cholesterol free and high in polyunsaturated fat. Soyoil also is used to make margarine and shortening.

The price, adaptability and performance of soybean oil make it appropriate for a broad range of food manufacturing applications. Soybean oil is commonly used in the production of liquid shortening, margarines, soft spreads and low-fat spreads. It is an important ingredient in products as diverse as salad dressings, non-dairy creamers, whipped toppings, breakfast cereals, ice cream, soups, confectionery products, cooking oils, frozen dairy desserts, peanut butter, sandwich spreads and snack foods.

Sprouts, Soy
Although not as popular as mung bean sprouts or alfalfa sprouts, soy sprouts (also called soybean sprouts) are an excellent source of nutrition, packed with protein and vitamin C. They can be sprouted in the same manner as other beans and seeds. Soy sprouts must be cooked quickly at low heat so they do not get mushy. They can also be used raw in salads or soups, or in stir-fried, sautéed or baked dishes.

Tempeh, a traditional Indonesian food, is a chunky, tender soybean cake. Whole soybeans, sometimes mixed with another grain such as rice or millet, are fermented into a rich cake of soybeans with a smoky or nutty flavor. Tempeh can be marinated and grilled and added to soups, casseroles or chili. It can be purchased in Asian food stores. For more information, see the fact sheet by the Soyfoods Association of North America at: http://www.soyfoods.org/soy-information/soy-fact-sheets/

Tofu and Tofu Products
Tofu, also known as soybean curd, is a soft cheese-like food made by curdling fresh hot soymilk with a coagulant. Tofu is a bland product that easily absorbs the flavors of other ingredients with which it is cooked. Tofu is rich in high-quality protein and in B vitamins as well as being low in sodium. Firm tofu is dense and solid and can be cubed and served in soups, stir fried or grilled. Firm tofu is higher in protein, fat and calcium than other forms of tofu.

Soft tofu is good for recipes that call for blended tofu. Silken tofu is a creamy product and can be used as a replacement for sour cream in many dip recipes. Salad dressings offered by companies in this Directory include creamy dressings made with tofu or some other soyfood product. Several types of tofu can be found in supermarkets and natural health food stores. Tofu is also available as a powder. For more information, see the fact sheet by the Soyfoods Association of North America at: http://www.soyfoods.org/soy-information/soy-fact-sheets/

Whipped Toppings, Soy-Based
Soy-based whipped toppings are similar to other nondairy whipped toppings, except that hydrogenated soyoil is used instead of other vegetable oils.

Yuba is made by lifting and drying the thin layer formed on the surface of cooling hot soymilk. It has high protein content and is commonly sold fresh, half dried and dried. In the United States, dried yuba sheets (called dried bean curd, bean curd sheets or bean curd skin) and u-shaped rolls (called bamboo yuba or bean curd sticks) can be found in Asian food stores.  (Soyatech)

Where To Find Soyfoods

The more popular soyfoods, such as tofu, meat alternatives, soy sauce, soy flour and soybean oil, can be found in supermarkets. Supermarkets are now carrying both national soyfood brands and their own store brands of soy products. In fact, the June 2006 Mintel Soy-Based Food and Drink Report states that 75 percent of the sales of soyfoods and drinks now come from supermarkets. However, you are still likely to find the greatest variety of soyfoods in natural and health foods stores. Asian food stores carry most of the soyfoods used in East Asia. Several products, such as textured soy flour, textured soy protein concentrates, soynuts and soynut butter, can be obtained through mail-order catalogs. If you have questions about these soyfoods, call your local health or natural food store, a manufacturer of the product, a mail-order company or one of the information resources.


American Soybean Association

Crop Production Annual Summary, National Ag Statistical Service, USDA.

Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA.

Oil Crops Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA - Provides commentary and statistics on the latest U.S. market outlook.

Oil Crops Yearbook, ERS, USDA - This publication contains more detailed information and longer time series than the monthly publication.

Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade, FAS, USDA - This publication provides a good overview of the world situation for oilseeds and products.

Soyfoods Association of North America - Provides information about the health benefits and nutritional advantages of soy consumption.

Soyfoods Facts, Soyatech.

Soy is Back, Prepared Foods Network, April 13, 2012.

Soy Stats 2012, The American Soybean Association - This guide is a comprehensive resource for statistical information about the U.S. soybean industry and its relationship to world oilseed production.

U.S. Soybean Export Council 

Profile created January 2003 and updated July 2012.
Links checked November 2013.


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