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Grow it yourself: Soya bean
They’re just tiny little beans. But this is one case where size does not matter, because these little beans are so versatile, some people say that one day soya could be the only plant grown on the entire planet. Well, that would be a bit dull for all us plant-lovers, but you certainly have to respect this protein-packed ninja of the vegetable world. Let them eat soya!
Grow it yourself: Soya beanAround five thousand years ago, the Chinese first began to cultivate soya plants. The short green pods each contained 2 to 4 beans, which they used as food and, once they discovered their health benefits, as ingredients for medicine. The soya bean rapidly became one of the most important crops to the Chinese. According to Chinese mythology, in 2853 BC, the legendary Chinese Emperor Shennong proclaimed five plants to be sacred: soya beans, rice, wheat, barley, and millet.
The Chinese spill the beans on their soya secret
The Chinese kept their soya beans a secret from the rest of the world for as long as they could, but eventually word got out, and little by little, the soya bean conquered the whole world. By about the first century AD, soya beans were being introduced into several other Asian countries due to the spread of trade routes, via both land and sea. The evidence suggests that soya bean cultivation began on the Japanese Archipelago in the early Yayoi period. The earliest references to the soya bean in Japanese writing are in the classic Records of Ancient Matters, which were completed in 712 AD. Many people have claimed soya beans in Asia were historically only used after going through a fermentation process. However, a drink similar to soya milk has been used since 82 AD and there is evidence that tofu consumption dates back to 220 AD.
The beans were introduced to America in 1765, and that was when they really took off. They were brought over by a sailor named Samuel Bowen who took some seeds with him from China. He was the first of many soya bean growers in the USA and they even exported soy sauce to England.
Grow it yourself: Soya bean
Henry Ford leads the soya revolution
Soya beans took on a very important role in the United States during the 1930s. During the Great Depression, the drought-stricken regions of the United States were able to use soya crops to regenerate their soil because of the plant’s nitrogen-fixing properties. Farms were instructed to increase their production to meet government targets, and Henry Ford was a great pioneer of using soya beans in industry. In 1932-33, the Ford Motor Company spent approximately $1,250,000 on soya bean research. That would be the equivalent of billions in today’s money. By 1935, the manufacture of every Ford car involved products derived from soya. There was soya bean oil was used in the paint and in the fluid for the shock absorbers, for example. Henry Ford promoted the soya bean, helping to find uses for it both in food and in industrial products.
How does this work? Well, after soya beans are harvested, they are cleaned, cracked and de-hulled. Then the soya bean oil is separated from the soya bean meal.
The soya bean oil is refined for use in margarine, salad and cooking oils, plus hundreds of other non-food products. There’s a good chance that the newspaper that comes through your door each morning is printed using soya ink. And the foam insulation and carpet backing in your home? It’s made from soya plastic. Not a day goes by without us touching or tasting something derived from soya beans, even though we may not know it. The elevators that take visitors to the top of the Statue of Liberty rely on a soya-based hydraulic fluid. Soya bean meal is also used to make wood adhesives, biodegradable plastics, printing inks and textiles. Whether it’s candles, cleaning fluids, crayons, cosmetics, concrete sealers, dust control, engine oil, fuel, industrial lubricants, paints, roof coatings or varnishes, soya is an essential ingredient for natural, renewable products from A to Z. That’s a small miracle, when you think about it!
But it doesn’t stop there. Soya bean meal represents 68 percent of the world’s protein consumption. It provides nutrition for hundreds of species including poultry, pigs, cattle, fish, dogs and cats. In fact, every part of the bean can be put to good use. Lecithin is extracted from soya bean oil for pharmaceuticals, protective coatings and emulsifiers that keep chocolate and cocoa butter in candy from separating. The soya bean hull is used as a high-fibre ingredient for breads and crackers. Even the stubble left over in the fields after harvesting can be collected to make building materials.
It seems the soya bean may well have unique health benefits too. Plant oestrogens were first identified in the early 1930s. Back then it was discovered that soya beans contained compounds that were much like oestrogens. Scientists began studying the role played by isoflavones in reducing the risk of breast cancer in the 1960s. In a Japanese study carried out in 1981, researchers found that daily consumption of miso, a soya bean paste, was linked to lower death rates from stomach cancer in over 260,000 men and women. At around that time, other studies on soya were being published in the United States. In October 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed to permit health claims about soya's role in reducing heart disease on food products containing soya protein.
Grow it yourself: Soya bean
Some researchers believe that the isoflavones in soya, such as genistein, daidzein, and glycitein, could play a role in reducing the risk of cancer. A number of studies have suggested that soya may reduce the risk of several types of cancer, including breast, prostate, ovarian, and uterine cancer. Scientists believe there is enough evidence for phytoestrogens to be studied in clinical trials alongside standard medical treatment for breast or prostate cancer. Human studies sponsored by the National Cancer Institute are on their way. Large-scale studies looking at groups of women with a high soya-based dietary intake have shown a lower risk of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. It is also possible that the weak oestrogen-like effect of soya may help to prevent prostate cancer.
Bean protection for breasts
Some studies have suggested that the effect of soya foods on breast cancer depends on the age at which they are consumed. It is thought that a high soya intake in young women during breast development, while oestrogen levels are relatively high, may offer some degree of protection. Several clinical studies of women with breast cancer have been done to learn whether soya capsules can help with the symptoms of the menopause.
Meanwhile, studies of men with prostate cancer have suggested that soya-based foods and supplements may reduce levels of prostate-specific antigen, a substance that typically increases as prostate cancer develops. In another study, while PSA levels did not decrease during soya treatment, they rose less rapidly than before the study began. Although these results are encouraging, further research is needed to learn whether soya products help men with prostate cancer to live longer. But initial results look promising.
Soya beans and soya-based foods have been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure and the list of health benefits is getting longer and longer. It’s amazing how much you can do with a simple soya bean and the health benefits that are packed inside. Mother nature has been very generous!
But enough about the wonders of this little bean… The best way to enjoy it is to let it get intimately acquainted with your taste buds. Are you ready?
Mmmmmmmm, edamame hummmmmmus
Edamame beans are succulent young soya beans. They are have a subtle juicy flavour and are light green in colour. Try this hummus recipe for a simple twist on traditional hummus. Some say it tastes even better than the original!
Grow it yourself: Soya bean
2 cups Edamame, shelled and cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup Soya bean oil
3 tablespoons Lemon juice
2 teaspoons Garlic, chopped
3/4 teaspoon Cumin, ground
1/2 teaspoon Salt
And here is how you do it. Puree the edamame, oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin and salt for 30 seconds using a food processor, until the mixture is almost smooth. Add a little chili if that is your thing. Done. Easy beany!