Edamame salad

The power and potential of soyfoods

April 1, 2024 | Jeff Hutton

Soyfoods are a staple overseas and preference is growing in the U.S.

Soyfoods are featured prominently on dinner plates around the globe. Heart healthy and economical, soybeans are an important protein option for consumers.

And while we recognize April as National Soyfoods Month, Americans are only recently grasping onto the importance of soybeans in their diets.

“When it comes down to the fact that plant-based foods are so prominent these days and that people are talking about them, soy should be a part of that discussion,” says Linda Funk, executive director of the U.S. Soyfoods Council.

“Truly, I say if people are going to choose a plant-based diet, they should include soy protein because of all of the health benefits,” she says. “Consumers in general really want to eat a little healthier and they’re looking at how to add plant-based food to their diets.”

Options aplenty

There are plenty of soy options to fit any palate preference, Funk says.

“When you start looking at products, there are a lot of products that already have soy in them,” Funk says.

She points to products like tofu, soy beverages, shelled edamame, Kashi cereals, select pancake mixes as well as soy oil and powder featured in various food items.

“Soy can be a part of a healthy diet and you can still eat meat,” Funk says.

So how does it fit in to everyday diets? There are easy additions, she says.

She points to edamame as an example.

“I always say if you are going to start eating soy, pair it with something familiar like sweet corn,” Funk says. “Adding edamame with sweet corn won’t be so scary.”

Take that edamame and corn mix, or an edamame salad, and serve that as a side dish to your established proteins of beef, pork or chicken. Keep in mind, soybeans are often a feed staple for cattle, pigs and chicken — more evidence of the power of soy.


World impact

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) District 9 Director Tom Adam says soy’s versatility is impressive. He acknowledges the production and consumption of soyfoods in the United States doesn’t get the attention it could receive compared to overseas.

“In totality, soyfoods are held in a much higher regard in foreign markets than domestically,” he says.

For example, Adam says in Indonesia and other parts of the world, soy is the basis of consumers’ diets. And aquaculture relies heavily on soy.

Adam says soyfoods are considered an economical food source around the globe. So economical, soyfoods are consumed directly and that has proven a wonderful way to introduce soyfood into their diets.

He points out that soyfoods are distributed worldwide through efforts like the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH), a program founded more than 20 years ago through the American Soybean Association (ASA) and overseen by U.S. soybean producers.

WISSH, Adam says, connects trade and development across global market systems, improving food security.

According to the ASA, continued investments in the farm bill’s international food assistance program allows U.S. soy to continue to be used through products such as corn-soy blend, texturized soy protein and canned vegetable oil. These soy products have served as staples for emergency response in at least 88 countries around the world.

Adam says consumers there are surprised to find out that Iowa farmers and other American do not consume soybeans like their global counterparts.

He says he is still amazed, after traveling to various places like Indonesia, how soy has translated to products that taste like meat and novelty items like soy ice cream.

Funk agrees. She says soyfoods have the enormous potential to be of high value for U.S. producers, especially as American consumers desire more plant-based options in their diets, like their counterparts in Asia and elsewhere.

“I know that farmers do get a premium for it, but it has to fit into their marketing plan,” she says. “I’m optimistic. I think it’s a terrific opportunity for farmers to grow more food-grade soybeans.”

Funk says the versatility of soybeans should not be lost on producers, especially when soy can feed animals and can be consumed directly by humans through soyfoods.

“Farmers can play in both arenas,” she says.

Soy every day

Funk says soyfoods like tempeh, a meat-like product made with fermented soybeans, is huge in Asia.

“Their markets are flourishing with soy protein,” she says.

With the advent of more plant-based diet requests, more Americans are asking how they can use soy in everyday meals.

“I only use soybean oil,” Funk says. “It's the only oil I have in my pantry, and it works beautifully for everything. I would challenge every farmer and every consumer to have soy every day in their diets.”

And while soyfoods can complement any meal like an edamame salad or be transformed into a plant-based meat-like product, Funk says the health benefits must also be touted.

“I think as we continue to do more health research, it will continue to impact people to look at soy protein and understand why it should be the preferred plant protein,” she says. “It has such a great nutrition profile, and we have such a great story to tell. We just need to engage and connect with consumers.”

Introducing soy into your diet

Linda Funk, U.S. Soyfoods Council executive director, offers these ideas as a way to incorporate soyfoods into your meal planning.

Oatmeal: Combine 1/4 cup oatmeal with 1/4 cup textured vegetable protein. Add about 1 cup soymilk. Microwave for 1 minute and 20 seconds. Serve with berries and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Chili: Make your favorite chili or buy a can of chili without beans and add 1 cup of black soybeans.

Salad: Add shelled edamame to any green salad.

Vegetable: Combine sweet corn and shelled edamame, cook and serve.

Dessert: Blend 1 carton of firm silken tofu with 1 jar of lemon curd. Serve with berries.

Toast: Spread soynut butter on toast, add a drizzle of honey and/or serve with sliced bananas.