Well, we’re one (1) day away from what I call “America’s official eating season:” Thanksgiving Day through New Year’s Day. That’s 35 days (this year) to eat, drink and be merry. It’s usually followed by some sort of New Year’s Resolution: lose weight, eat healthy foods, cut back…whatever.
So while you eat your turkey — which is healthy, let me plant another healthy food in your mind to start off those healthy living resolutions for 2014: soybeans.
Bet you didn’t expect that one.
A Little About Soybean Production
I didn’t either, until I took the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board‘s (WSMB) “Soybean Pod to Plate Tour” in October. But then again, I should have – considering Wisconsin’s soybean-growing status. There are 29 soy producing states, of which Wisconsin ranks 13th, according to Dr. Mark Messina, Executive Director for the Soy Nutrition Institute . And, on top of its rank, Wisconsin’s 10-11,000 soybean producers often make Wisconsin the top-yielding state.
Rock County (where I live) is the leading Wisconsin producer, followed by Dane, Dodge, Grant and Jefferson counties. If you’re never seen the actual bean, the plant looks like, and is related to, clover, peas and alfalfa. The WSMB explains that soybeans are “typically planted in late spring, and when they flower, in the summer, they can produce up to 80 pods. Each pod contains 2-4 pea-sized beans.”
In case you’ve driven by farms and not recognized soybean plants, in the summer they look like this:
The actual fresh beans, which are often eaten as edamame — my favorite appetizer with sushi — are hand-picked in mid- to late-summer, right when the pods are filled. They look like this:
But the plants to be used for soy nuts, flour, tofu and more are harvested in the fall. By then they look like this:
Once harvested, the beans look like this:
That’s the short story. But what do you get out of it? A lot. Soybeans have hundreds of uses, according to the Wisconsin Soybean people: “from industrial products like engine oil or crayons to food products and animal feeds.” Soybeans are naturally rich in protein and oil and have the highest natural source of dietary fiber.
When soybeans are processed, they are cleaned, cracked, de-hulled and rolled into flakes, separating the soybean oil and meal. The oil is used in foods like salad dressing or cooking oils. The meal contains protein and is fed to livestock.
Health Benefits of Soy
But what do soyfoods, like edamame, tofu, soymilk, soy nuts or flour do for you? Soybeans are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than their common bean counterparts. In fact, soybeans have 27 carbs v. the common bean’s 70. Experts recommend 2-3 servings of soyfoods daily for wellness.
Dr. Messina shared that evidence indicates that soyfoods reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and certain forms of cancer. He also pointed out that studies indicate that just one serving of soy each day for girls, “may offer significant protection against breast cancer. Enjoying a cup of soymilk or 1/2 cup of tofu a day may reduce the chances of developing breast cancer, later in life, by as much as 50 percent.”
Dr. Messina also quoted some studies that showed that soyfoods can “mitigate the drop in estrogen levels,” to help women with hot flashes during menopause. And he explained more topical soy products will be out next year to help with skin wrinkling and other degenerative issues.
Where Wisconsin Soy Is Going
These studies show what Asian populations already know: soy is good for you. Which explains why 2 out of every 3 soybean rows, according to information provided by the WSMB media kit, are sent to other countries. In fact, soy is the leading U.S. agricultural export, valued at more than $23 billion.
Sixty five percent of Wisconsin soybeans are exported, with much of it sent to China. Our tour stopped at The DeLong Company in Clinton. DeLong’s has a 100-year history in the grain business. They started with malting barley, but expanded to corn in the late 1970s, and in the late 1980s began selling soybeans to the Japanese tofu market.
Bo DeLong, vice president of grain, said: “We used to do a lot of food grade corn. But we faced facts that the weather isn’t as consistent around here as say, the middle of Illinois. So we found that selling soybeans — the big, high-protein bean for tofu — was successful”. The DeLong Company focuses on Southeast Asia, the Pacific Rim and Middle East countries. In fact, over 50% of DeLong beans are exported to Japan and Korea.
The DeLong Company buys soybeans from area farmers, sorts, sizes and cleans them; then sells and ships them by shipping container — which controls quality due to less handling. In fact, DeLong’s has become one of the largest containerized exporters in the world, with 150-200 employees involved. There’s plenty more to tell you about types of soybeans, and whether they’re GMO (genetically modified organism) or non-GMO, and shipping worldwide, but that’s another story.
Let’s just stick to the soy products we’d like to eat. And, with that type of demand and health advantages, why wouldn’t you want to keep some soy here and put more soybeans in your diet?
Here’s one way to do it — add soy flour to your cookies — after all it is eating season!
Cinnamon Pecan Cookies
by Christopher Koetke, Dean of Culinary Arts, Kendall College
With permission from the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board
Time: 50 minutes, including baking
Makes: 48 cookies
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup soy flour
1-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup pecan pieces
In large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add egg, vanilla and cinnamon and beat well. In small bowl stir together soy and all purpose flour, baking powder and salt.
Add to the egg mixture and mix well. Stir in pecans. Divide dough in half and roll each half into a log. Wrap both rolls tightly with plastic wrap and chill in freezer for 30 minutes (or several hours in the refrigerator).
To bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap log and cut into 1/4″ thick slices. Arrange on greased baking sheet.
Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Then voila! You’ve worked some soy into your diet without even thinking about it! Enjoy!