Soybeans date back 5,000 years to China. The Asian legume was cultivated from its wild state into a food crop. Soybeans first came to the United States in 1804, arriving aboard a clipper ship from China. By the mid 1800s, farmers were growing soybeans as food for their livestock. By the 1900s, soybeans were growing on American farms as a food crop. At that same time, extensive research began on the bean. George Washington Carver’s work changed the way people thought about soybeans. It became much more than forage crop when Carver discovered there was value in the protein and oil. In the 1940s, soybean farming really took off in America. World War II devastated bean fields in China and U.S. farmers filled the gap. Henry Ford saw soybeans as a boon to various industries and used the plant to make plastic for cars and other uses. The United States is now the number one producer of soybeans in the world. We use about one-half of all the beans we grow. We are also a large exporter of soybeans. In Louisiana, soybean acreage remained small until the 1960s. Most of the acreage today is concentrated on the alluvial river soils of Northeast and Central Louisiana. The crop is well suited to Louisiana because it can grow in a wide variety of soil types.


The soybean plant is a legume. A legume is a plant that has nitrogen-fixing nodules on its roots. The plants help replenish nitrogen in the soil. Soybeans are a summer annual planted in May or early June. It usually takes 75-80 days for the beans to fully mature. Mature plants may reach a height of three feet. When mature, the foliage begins to shrivel and the leaves fall away. They are ready to harvest in September or October. Harvest must be completed before the bean pods burst open. All harvesting is done by a machine called a combine. The header on the front of the combine cuts and collects the soybean plants. The combine separates the soybeans from their pods and stems and collects the soybeans in a holding tank in the back of the combine. When the tank is full, the harvested beans are taken to a storage bin with a dryer. The beans are dried to reduce the amount of moisture they contain so the beans will store well for long periods of time.

During processing, soybeans are first graded, cleaned, cracked, dehulled and rolled into flakes. The flaking ruptures the oil cells in the bean, which makes extracting the oil easier. Once the oil is removed, the flakes are processed into soy protein products or used to produce animal feed.

Soybeans find their way into a variety of products. Oil products have many edible and technical uses. Soybean oil is found in 95 percent of prepared salad dressings, 85 percent of margarine and 70 percent of solid shortenings. Industrial products include biodiesel, soy ink, soy crayons and plastics. Whole soybean products include breads, baked goods, tofu, soy milk and candy products, just to name a few. Soybean protein products include bakery ingredients, baby food, cereals, noodles, adhesives, cosmetics, paints and textiles.

Soybeans are an excellent source of dietary fiber. Soy foods are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, calcium and iron. Soybean oil is cholesterol-free. The protein in soybeans is complete, meaning it has all of the eight amino acids needed for human health. The soybean is the only vegetable that contains complete protein. Medical research shows a strong connection between soy foods and the prevention of heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer.


  • Combine - A machine that separates the soybeans from their pods and stems

  • Complete protein - Contains all eight amino acids needed for human health 

  • Flakes - The product produced by grading, cleaning, cracking and dehulling soybeans. They are marketed as flakes or ground into meal 

  • Foliage - Plant leaves 

  • Header - A piece of equipment on a combine that cuts and collects plants

  • Summer annual - Plant that germinates during the spring or summer and matures by autumn of the same year 

Baked Soybeans
Serves 6 to 8

  • ½ pound ground beef

  • 5 cups cooked soybeans

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • ¼ cup catsup

  • ¼ cup molasses or firmly packed dark brown sugar

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 2 tablespoons prepared mustard

  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

  • ½ teaspoon pepper

  • ½ teaspoon cayenne red pepper

  • 4 slices bacon 

  1. Brown ground beef in a heavy skillet.

  2. Drain meat well.

  3. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

  4. Combine beans, onion, catsup, molasses, salt, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, cayenne pepper, and ground beef in a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish.

  5. Mix well. Taste and add more seasonings, if desired.

  6. Top with bacon strips; bake at 300 degrees for 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Louisiana Farm Bureau Women Cookbook, Page 198
Submitted by Kathleen Watkins of Jeff Davis Parish