This article is the third in a four-part series on the basics of soy. The first article in this series focused on whole-soybean food products and the second tackled soy-derived ingredients. In this article, we’ll discuss one of the most widely consumed cooking oils: soybean oil.
What is soybean oil?
Soybean oil is made by extracting oil from whole soybeans. This process involves dehulling and crushing soybeans, separating the oil from the rest of the bean, and distilling and refining it to remove contaminants that may affect the flavor, smell and color of the oil. Soybean oil is used in a wide variety of packaged foods, baked goods, snacks, dressings and sauces, in addition to being sold on its own as a cooking oil. It’s considered to be a vegetable oil and is often sold as a blend with other oils, including canola, corn, safflower and sunflower oils.
Liquid plant-derived oils such as soybean oil primarily contain unsaturated fatty acids, which makes them beneficial to our health. Soybean oil is high in polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It’s a source of linoleic acid, an essential omega-6 fatty acid that we need to get from food because our bodies can’t make it on their own.
Like other types of oils, soybean oil also contains monounsaturated fats like oleic acid and is low in saturated fat. While polyunsaturated fats are considered to be the type of fat that is most beneficial to our health, their structure makes them a little less stable and more vulnerable to spoilage. As a result, newer varieties of soybeans have been bred to have a higher amount of monounsaturated fats. These new varieties are called high-oleic soybean oils. High-oleic oils are more stable and can be used in applications like high-heat cooking and frying for longer periods of time.
How does soybean oil impact my health?
Dietary fat is an important part of a healthy diet, and the type of fat we eat can influence health more than the amount of fat we eat. Both the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids found in soybean oil can contribute to good health, particularly when they replace saturated fat in our diets. Evidence from randomized controlled trials demonstrates that omega-3s can lower triglyceride levels, blood pressure, inflammation and heart rate, while also increasing HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind of cholesterol that we want more of). When compared with carbohydrates, linoleic acid has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind of cholesterol that we want less of), the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, and blood triglyceride levels.
Apart from contributing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to our diets, consuming oils like soybean oil can improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as compounds called carotenoids, which are found in plants and are sources of important antioxidants.
How can I use it?
Soybean oil is a versatile cooking oil and can be used for everything from salad dressings to deep frying. Because of its versatility, it remains one of the most commonly consumed cooking oils around the world. Its neutral taste makes it an easy substitute for other vegetable oils in most recipes. Soybean oil has a high smoke point (around 450 degrees Fahrenheit), which means it can be used for cooking food at high temperatures—think roasting, baking, sautéing and frying—without breaking down. Soybean oil can be refrigerated for extended freshness without solidifying. It may become cloudy when refrigerated, but this effect is harmless and will clear when the product is warmed to room temperature.
So far in this series, we’ve tackled the basics of whole soybean foods, soy-derived ingredients and soybean oil. Stay tuned for the final article, where we bring it all together and talk about soy’s impact on human health.