What The Soy: An Intro To The Mighty Soybean

What The Soy: An Intro To The Mighty Soybean


Looking up what is soy? Here are the bean-counting basics…

Come on, let’s all admit to it. We’ve all googled it or thought about it while confronting the great wall of snacks during the weekly shop. ‘Help me out here: what really is Soy?’

There’s a brain-blending myriad of terms Siri will throw back at you;

Google Search: Soy

Typing in ‘soy’ will get you a plethora of different rabbit holes to investigate. But do not fret! We’re here to help you out with opening this can of beans…

Here is your initial guide to simplifying some of these answers. This blog post will cover:

  • The family tree
  • A little biographic detail on the soybean’s humble origins
  • Unpacking a little of the soybean’s eco-friendly image problem


The Plant

Of course an introduction to soy would starts at its roots!

Dubbed the ‘King of Beans’ for its expansive list of uses and efficient energy/harvest margins across the world; the soybean is a plant belonging to the legume or pea family. Commonly known as the Fabaceae family, Legumes belong to the Dicotyledonae (dicot) class; which essentially means flowering plants within this group have two embryonic leaves, as opposed to one (monocots) – I’ll leave you to unpack that biology lesson via Wikipedia in your own time.

A good analogy to lean back on is when trying to decipher the definitions of beans from legumes is to think about species vs animals. Nemo and his mates are all fish, but only Nemo is a clownfish. That’s how the soybean shares it’s family tree name with other things such as peanuts and lentils, as well kidney beans and pinto beans!

The Soybean’s Origin Story

Domestication of the soybean plant began in East Asian agriculture, recorded as far back as 9,000 BCE in Northern China. Traditional minimally processed soy products such as tempeh, soy sauce & miso (fermented) and tofu & soy milk (unfermented) are still integral to the Asian diet, holding a largely sacred place in many Asian cultures. It was in fact during a trip to Indonesia (the birthplace of tempeh) that Tiba Tempeh founders Alex and Ross first experienced the authentic taste of tempeh and learned about it’s soy-based magical properties, but you can read more about that story here.

Introduced to Europe and North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, the West has not only favoured soy for its flexible use in a whole host of different industries, but also developed a “second generation” of soy products that led to the development of soy used as a meat/dairy alternative.

This photo depicts two shots, one of the beautifully lush green rolling fields of Indonesia, taken from above by a drone. The other shows an authentically created block of tempeh, unwrapped from it's banana leaf in which it was used to form the distinctive cake shape.

You might have noticed we’ve been saying soybean and soy, not soyabean and soya. Don’t panic, it’s the same thing! Often used interchangeably, this confusing juggling of terms is said to be traced back to between the stages of East Asia and the US negotiating an intellectual monopoly on the industrialisation of growing soy outside of Asia.

Unless you’ve been living under a literal rock, you’ll have noticed there is a HUGE boom in demand for plant-based meat alternatives. There are now 100 ways to turn every recipe you can think of veggie-centric. From ‘neat’balls and spag no-bull, to TLT’s and sweet n’ sour n’ good for the planet; here at Tiba we have an answer for all appetites, and a passion for experimenting with the next best flexi-friendly recipe.

Over a third (39%) of UK adults are reducing their meat consumption, for many reasons; some for their own health or for the planet’s.

Soy often gets a bad rep when chatting about climate change and the ways what we eat can affect our planet. And we can’t deny this big green bean in the room. The production of soy has had undeniably negative effects on the environment, including deforestation and loss of biodiverse habitats all over the world.

However, though this may be true, the cause of soy’s prevalence is a multi-faceted one. Did you know that soy’s presence can be found in more industries than just feeding us hungry humans? And in fact, that the largest percentage of soy produced is not for human consumption, but for livestock? Let’s unpack…

The Environment And Soy

Agricultural use for soy increased exponentially with the growing demand for meat, and it’s fed to livestock for the same reasons we like to eat the protein packed little things. It’s an easy, hardy and time efficient crop to grow, packed with protein that is easily digestible. 

The problem our superfood friend has, is that about 70% of the world’s soy is fed to livestock, driving agricultural expansion and deforestation.

You may think, well, if soy consumption is the problem, then I’ll stop eating it altogether.

But, soy is named a superfood for a reason. It delivers more protein per hectare than any other crop.

Our current direct human consumption only stands at 6%, and that’s partly due to the fact that it takes a significantly smaller amount of soy required for direct human consumption vs animal feed to process into energy. 

It takes a high volume of soy as animal feed to produce only a small amount of meat; so you can see now how that highlights the inefficiency in the food system. To summarise – shifting to more plant-based foods, including soy, will help reduce the demand for soy as animal feed, taking the pressure off ecosystems, while increasing availability of nutritious sources of protein.

AND it’s never been easier to find new ways to get your daily dose of protein, from a source that quite literally comes straight from the ground: plants!

For example, our tempeh is just one of those ways to enjoy a whopping 22g of protein in one Smoky BBQ Burger, similar to that of its fellow meat adjacent. Need a great alternative for a plant-based mince for Taco night? Our Traditional Block crumbles up beautifully, absorbing flavour like you wouldn’t believe. And lucky you, you’re also naturally getting fibre, iron and potassium added atop that gut-friendly bacteria, thanks to the fermentation process tempeh undergoes – y’know, just for good measure.


This photo shows a graphic representative of the planet as a bean. It's formed in the classic curved kidney bean shape, in a white woodblock print texture, with the world map imprinted across it's surface.

We are all residents of our shared planet… It’s a fact that reducing our meat intake (yes, even by one meal a week) is one of the simplest ways that we can most effectively lower our impact on our Earth. We CAN drive change through small individual efforts that will make the difference.So why not go straight to the source, cut out the middle cow and do the planet some good while you’re at it? 

But you didn’t come here to listen to our elevator pitch, you came here to learn about soy! So, how do you feel after this quick little lesson? Equipped up to your eyeballs with the basic facts and knowledge about our mutual friend the soybean? Nice! Why not share this post with another mutual keen bean, and help us spread the love!

Stay tuned for our next chapter of What The Soy, which of course will be more about the bean, the whole bean and nothing but the bean.

Sources: wwf, Mintel Meat Free Foods, Meatless Mondays, Surge Activism, finder.com

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