A recent visit home to the Midwest coincided with the clocks jumping forward along with temperatures that teased of summer after barely being out of the single digits. I was lucky enough to bear witness to the changing of the seasons. Spring has arrived!
Spring is the season that makes farmers excited as they prepare the farm for a productive and prosperous year. Although this farm girl resides in sunny Florida most of the year, I cannot help but be transported back to my farm-to-table roots the minute the season changes. A farmer’s psyche is perfectly in tune with nature. They feel the ebb and flow of the seasons. Spring melts the snow, leaving rich soil ready to be sown. Summer brings seas of green that blanket the countryside. Fall (with cooperation of the weather and a lot of hard work!) delivers abundant harvests. Winter tucks the earth in to hibernate and rest while she readies herself for another rotation around the sun.
In rural Mantua, Ohio, where I grew up, I can safely say there are more fields being planted than there are residents taking root, and we all track time by the stages of the crops. In my opinion, there is no crop so reflective of the seasonal changes – and the farmers’ hard work and perseverance – than soybeans.
Spring is heralded by the arrival of the large tillers and seeding machines churning up the cocoa-colored soil and, within weeks, tiny emerald sprouts break through the earth and begin painting the fields green. In a mesmerizing display, the soybeans carpet the ground in deep green vegetation creating stunning panoramas with the blue Midwestern sky.
By the time school is back in session, kids can press their noses against the bus windows and watch the fields fade to beige as the leaves wilt and fall from the bushes revealing a bounty of dried pods ready to be picked. After harvest, the soybeans are turned into heart-healthy products, and the fields tuck in for the winter.
It’s no surprise that my farming community takes so much pride in its soybean crops, but it is surprising how little the average person knows about this nutritious plant. This year, soybeans cover more acreage in the U.S. than any other crop, surpassing corn for the first time.¹ Demand for soybeans is high because countless food products contain a soy component. But what makes this amazing plant so special?
First of all, soy is sustainably grown in the U.S. In order to meet consumer demand while preserving the environment, the food industry is sourcing sustainable ingredients. In other words, farmers are expected to grow their crops while conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Soybean farmers and their partners in the supply chain have rallied to the challenge by growing soybeans that are certified sustainable² (U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol), thereby contributing to a cleaner label and lower carbon footprint. The farmers employ sustainable practices such as crop rotation, reduced tillage, and water and nutrient management to improve the nutrient efficiency of soil, use less pesticides, boost crop productivity, conserve water and enrich soil quality.³ Good stuff!
Secondly, both soybean oil and soy protein carry the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) heart-healthy claim, suggesting their ability may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.4 Soybean oil is a rich source of omega-3s5–6 and ranks as America’s #1 cooking oil.7 By the way, most “vegetable oil” you find in your grocery store is actually heart-healthy 100% soybean oil! Retailers are increasingly reflecting the pride of the industry by prominently displaying “Heart-Healthy 100% Soybean Oil” on vegetable oil labels. Heart-healthy soybean oil is exceptionally versatile and useful, especially when baking, sautéing, frying, making dressings, dips, and frostings. Heart-healthy soy protein is a complete plant-based protein, meaning it provides all essential amino acids.8–9 That makes soyfoods like tofu and edamame smart, plant-based protein options.
Overall, cooking with soy is a joy! Soy protein is a versatile gluten-free plant-based protein, and soybean oil’s neutral flavor allows the food flavors that are paired with it to take center stage; soybean oil also plays well with other fats and oils, making it great for blending.
My favorite recipe that showcases soybean oil is my Funnel Cake Cupcakes. This recipe features soybean oil in the cupcake batter, the funnel cake frying oil and the fluffy funnel cake flavored cupcake frosting. Give it a try!
As a chef and culinary educator that grew up on a farm, I encourage eating delicious home-cooked meals made with fresh ingredients and I am all about supporting my soybean farming neighbors. To learn more about the health benefits of eating U.S. soy, and to find more delicious recipes, visit SoyConnection.com!
I only endorse brands and products I love!
Therefore, all opinions expressed are my own. I received compensation to write this post as a Soy Connection Partner.
¹“National Agricultural Statistics Service.” https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/j098zb09z/gb19f7847/ng451k91v/Acre-06-29-2018.pdf. United States Department of Agriculture. June 29, 2018.
²“U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol.” https://ussec.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/20180416-U.S.-Soy-Sustainability-Assurance-Protocol-low-res.pdf. April 2018.
³“Soil Tillage and Crop Rotation.” https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-practices-management/crop-livestock-practices/soil-tillage-and-crop-rotation/. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. April 4, 2017.
4U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Soybean Oil and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease.” July 31, 2017. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/%20LabelingNutrition/UCM568508.pdf.
Supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1½ tablespoons (20.5 grams) daily of soybean oil, which contains unsaturated fat, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. To achieve this possible benefit, soybean oil is to replace saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day. One serving of this product contains 14 grams of soybean oil.
5USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
6U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration. “Food Labeling: Nutrient Content Claims; Alpha-Linolenic Acid, Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid Omega-3 Fatty Acids; Guidance for Industry.” January 1, 2016.
7USDA Economic Research Service. “Oil Crops Yearbook.” https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/oil-crops-yearbook. March 30, 2018. Table 31; Domestic Disappearance.
8Hayes, K.C., Dietary fatty acids, cholesterol, and the lipoprotein profile. Br J Nutr, 2000. 84(4): p. 397-9.
9Blasbalg, T.L., et al., Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr, 2011. 93(5): p. 950-62.
10“Census of Agriculture Farm Typology Report.” https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Highlights/2015/Family_Farms_Highlights.pdf. United States Department of Agriculture. March 2015.
11“Approaches to Establish Thresholds for Major Food Allergens and for Gluten in Food.” U.S. Food & Drug Administration. March 2006. II. Food Allergy; E,2: Food Ingredients.
12“Inventory of Notifications Received under 21 U.S.C. 343(w)(7) for Exemptions from Food Allergen Labeling.” U.S. Food & Drug Administration. July 16, 2018. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/16108.
132018 sales data reported by Northgate González Market.
142015 sales data reported by large Midwest grocer with 230+ locations.
152015 sales data reported by Goya Foods.