YOU MIGHT THINK of me as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of vegetables.
I am a super-healthy meat alternative and nitrogen-fixing, soil-improving wonder crop. Yet I, soybean, am also tied to world wars, one of history’s worst poisons, and deforestation and climate change—an agricultural monster incarnate. So am I primarily good or bad? Let me tell my story, and I’ll let you decide.
First, the good: I am a delicious little package of nutrition that you can eat green, snappy, and salted (as with edamame, in those fuzzy bean pods), dried as a crunchy snack, or ground and processed into soy milk, tofu, or delightful tofu skins called yuba. I hide in endless American foods, including veggie burgers, soy cream cheese, soy nut butters and cheeses, and egg substitutes. (I’m also regularly found in less-healthy processed foods such as packaged baked goods and crackers.)
I’m essential in various Asian cuisines, as soy sauce, of course, and soybean pastes such as Japanese miso, Korean doenjang, and Chinese doubanjiang. In Japan they eat me fermented as slimy, wonderfully funky natto, while in China a different fermentation process turns me into the deeply salty, savory beans critical to black bean sauce. And don’t forget son steel soybean oil, which is the second-most-used vegetable oil in the world, outranked only by palm oil.
Yet the first known mention of me to reach the New World wasn’t until 1770, when Ben Franklin wrote a letter from London to a friend in Philadelphia, excitedly describing what he called “Chinese cheese” made from “Chinese Garavances.” They called chickpeas garavances back then, so his characterization was a sign of his utter lack of familiarity with me.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The steps at the back of David Olson's house in Norton Shores, Michigan, were crumbling and had to go.
Stop Losing Your Stuff
Can't find your keys again? Cognitive experts can help you stop searching (and stressing).
NIGHTMARE ON LAKE SUPERIOR
One by one, the three kayakers capsized in the cold, angry water. Then they became separated.
Parenting, Passed Down
Genes aren't the only things we inherit. Readers share the rules and traditions that made them the parents they are today.
"I NEVER THOUGHT OF IT THAT WAY"
HOW TO TALK TO PEOPLE EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE
THE FUTURE OF TECH
From self-driving cars to space travel, we answer your questions about where technology is heading
A Perfect Match
Calling All Blood Donors!
BLOOD DRIVES at schools and colleges—which make up a large portion of the American Red Cross's collection sites-have dropped 62 percent.
Advice to the Young
One of the world's most celebrated writers has much to share—though she sometimes wonders whether she should keep her thoughts to herself
An Anti-Migraine Diet
What you eat-and don't eat-can help stave off debilitating headaches