The ingredient in almost everything you eat - Francesca Bot
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Soybeans originate from China, and are now cultivated worldwide, from Europe to Asia to North and South America. The production of soybean has increased over the past 50 years and in 2018 has reached 350 million tons. The countries with largest production of soybeans are USA, Brazil and Argentina. The USA and Brazil alone account for more than two-thirds of the global soybean production. Find out more about soybean cultivation.
Soybean and legume family
Soybeans belong to the legume family along with other famous crops like peas, lentils and chickpeas. Compared to the other legumes, soybeans are very rich in proteins (35-40% on dry basis), lipids (18-19% on dry basis) and carbohydrates (33% on dry basis). Find out more about soybean composition.
Soybean food products
The unique composition of soybeans makes them a versatile crop used in a wide range of food applications.
Soybeans can be eaten as whole bean: roasted whole soybeans and their flour are used as ingredients in traditional confectionery products and snacks in Asia; germinated soybeans and soybean sprout are well known in Asia and they are becoming popular in western countries as well. Other traditional products are fermented soybeans, which include soy sauce, miso, natto, and tempeh.
Soymilk and derived products
Beside the consumption of soybeans as a bean, individual fractions can be used as a food after processing or fractionation. One of the most popular beverages obtained after processing of soybeans is soymilk. The dry beans are firstly soaked in water, to make them softener, and then grinded to obtain a whitish liquid. The liquid is then boiled to improve its nutritional value and reduce the typical nutty flavor, and filtered. Watch this TED-Ed lesson to learn more about soy and plant-based milk. From soy milk, tofu can be obtained by adding a coagulant, typically salts or acids, which converts the liquid soy milk into a solid gel. Watch this video to learn how to make tofu.
Soybean oil and derived products
Soybean can be used after being fractioned into oil. The oil can be extracted by expellers, also known as screw presses. During oil production, another co-product is obtained: lecithin. Lecithin is a mixture of phospholipids, which are amphiphilic molecules made of a phosphate head and a lipid tail. The head enjoys the company of water (hydrophilic), while the tail hates water and likes lipids (lipophilic). Read this review article to learn more about lecithin.Lecithin can be used in a wide range of food products, including beverages, chocolate and powders. Beverages, salad dressings and recombined milk products are generally defined as oil in water emulsions due to the presence of small oil droplets dispersed in water. The addition of lecithin into those products helps to prevent and delay the separation, that generally occurs over time, between oil and water.
Another examples is chocolate. During its manufacture, sugar, cocoa powder and butter are mixed and conched (i.e., rolled) to form a paste-like chocolate mass. The addition of lecithin at the end of the conching makes easier to further process the chocolate mass.Lecithin can be also added to milk powder, coffee whitener and soups to improve the instant characteristics and make them easily soluble when mixed with water.
Read this review article to learn more about the use of lecithin in different food applications.
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