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Soybeans

Description & Cultivation

The soybean is an annual crop that belongs to the nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants and exists in a large number of forms and varieties. The plant is approximately 50 cm in height, and the soybeans are found in pods containing 2-4 bans. The beans vary in size and shape, and may be round or oval according to the variety. The colour varies from yellow to green. A thin shell surrounds the bean.

The soybean is considered one of the oldest cultivated plants on earth. Increased demand for economical sources of protein for animal feed has increased the importance of the soybean. At the beginning of the twentieth century, cultivation started on a large scale. The USA, Brazil, Argentina and China are the dominant producers.

The harvest starts when the soybean ripens, which occurs with the shedding of the leaves. Harvesting usually begins in September in the Northern Hemisphere.

Today, the EU produces only the 8% of the soybean it crushes; the remaining 92 % is imported, representing 13 million tonnes.

Soybean oil and meal

In order to derive the products, soybeans are normally solvent extracted without the pre-pressing step. The meal content in the soybean is about 79 %, oil about 18 % and lecithin about 0.5 %.


Soybean oil is a widely used vegetable oil for edible applications. It has a naturally light colour and little flavour; hence it is mainly used in applications like baking fats, mayonnaise, frying oil, salad and cooking oils, as an ingredient in margarine and other edible uses. Besides food applications, soybeans oil is also used by the chemical and technical industry in applications like varnish and lacquer and as raw material for biodiesel.

Soybean oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fatty acids. The five major fatty acids in soybean oil are palmitate, stearate, oleate, and linolenate.

Soybean meal is Europe's most important protein source in compound feed for cattle, pigs, poultry and fish.   In addition, protein concentrates from soybean meal are important food ingredients. Lecithin (phospholipids) is another important product derived from soybeans. Its main use is as a lubricant as well as an emulsifier in the food, feed and pharmaceutical industries.