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Do You Know a A Soybean When You Eat It...Wear It...Read It?


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photo of Edgar Hartwig
ARS agronomist Edgar E. Hartwig has devoted half a century to soybeans research.

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Soybeans have found their way into an eye-opening array of foods. Starting with the basics, there's soy milk, used in infant formulas. And the familiar Oriental staple tofu, soybean curd, is made by coagulating soy milk. But also consider soy yogurt, soyburgers, soy loaf, and soy sausage. Soy oil is the most widely used edible oil in the United States; you'll find it in mayonnaise, salad dressing, process cheese products, dessert frostings, and much more.

Soy components such as protein and oil are ingredients in dozens of everyday foods-from the granola bar you eat for breakfast and the potato chips at lunch, to a late-night sandwich. And, attention chocoholics! You'll be hard put to find a chocolate treat that lacks soy lecithin.

Most soybean varieties have the Agricultural Research Service in their pedigree. Between 1980 and 1994 alone, agency scientists released 66 varieties and 280 breeding lines.

Thanks to ARS research, soybeans have been incorporated into a host of nonfood products. These range from your morning newspaper printed with soy oil-based ink to lipstick, plastics, flooring, paints, and stain-removing cleaners.

What more can we make of the soybeans? At one ARS lab, we're cloning soy's genes for proteins, with an eye to improving its nutritional quality. At another, we're trying to learn how stress factors such as drought and heat affect the plant's ability to flower. (Fewer flowers mean fewer beans, of course.) And we're breeding specialized soybeans galore to tailor soy-based products for every niche, from the supermarket to the export market!