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While you certainly expect to find soybeans and soy foods like tofu in the grocery store, the extent to which soy-derived ingredients are used in processed foods may surprise you…not to mention the soybeans that end up in cars, paints, plastics, inks and lubricants. Let’s take a brief look at the wide variety of food uses of soybeans.

Food Uses of Soybeans: From Edamame to Soy Protein Isolate

Soybeans can be consumed whole as several different traditional soy foods. Minimal processing in a crushing facility yields crude soybean oil that is refined for food use, and soybean meal that is a high quality source of protein for food and animal feed. Almost all soybean meal used in Canada is for animal feed. Canada has several crushing facilities, but little capacity for additional processing, so most domestic soybeans are used whole or crushed for oil and meal. However, soybean-derived ingredients are imported and found in many processed and packaged foods. The table below gives an overview of the food uses of soybeans, roughly in order of increased processing and refinement.

Soy Food or

Soy Ingredient



Fresh green soybeans


Fermented soybeans; traditional Japanese breakfast


Soybean cake; traditional Indonesian food


Cultured soybean paste

Soy “Milk”

Liquid made by heating dried ground soybeans in water then straining; used to make tofu


Soybean curd made from soy milk (analogous to cheese from cow’s milk)

Soybean Oil

Widely used as a cooking oil or for dressings; sometimes hydrogenated to increase stability or make margarine

Soybean Meal

Used mainly as animal feed in Canada; high quality protein source

Soy Flour

Refined from soybean meal; high in protein and used extensively in food industry for baked goods, pancake mixes, frozen desserts, candy, pasta

Texturized Soy Protein

Compressed, defatted soy flour that is process to granules or chunks; often used as a meat replacement

Soy Protein Concentrates

Made by removing part of the carbohydrates (sugars) from dehulled and defatted soybeans (minimum 70% protein); used in baked goods, breakfast cereals, soy dairy alternatives

Soy Protein Isolates

Refined from soy protein concentrates to at least 90% protein; found in protein bars and meat marinades

Several minor components of soybeans are also used in the food industry. For example, soy lecithin is frequently used as an emulsifier. It stabilizes food mixtures of lipids and water, such as salad dressing and chocolate bars. 

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Krysta Levac

After an undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph, I earned a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from Cornell University in 2001. I spent 7 years as a post-doctoral fellow and research associate in stem cell biology at Robarts Research Institute at Western University in London, ON. I currently enjoy science writing, Let's Talk Science outreach, and volunteering at my son's school. I love sharing my passion for science with others, especially children and youth. I am also a bookworm, a yogi, a quilter, a Lego builder and an occasional "ninja spy" with my son.

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