What Is Soybean Oil and How Is It Made?

Lisa Humphreys

Lisa Humphreys

United Soybean Board

Soybean oil, often known as “vegetable oil,” is like the Swiss Army knife of oils – versatile, reliable, and ready to tackle any culinary challenge! From salad dressings to baked goods, fried chicken, stir-fries, and roasted vegetables, soybean oil comes in handy for a variety of recipes – making it the perfect pantry staple.

Learn what soybean oil is, how it’s made, and a few tasty ways to add soybean oil into your diet.

What Is Soybean Oil?

Soybean oil is considered a seed oil because the oil comes from the seed of a plant, rather than the bean itself. It is a popular oil for sautéing, deep frying, and baking. Its high smoke point makes it ideal for high-heat cooking, while its mild flavor enhances dishes without overpowering their natural taste.

You probably eat soybean oil more often than you realize. It’s commonly labeled as “vegetable oil” in grocery stores and can be used in (and found in!) many other foods like baked goods and salad dressings.

Listen to a chef share why he likes cooking with U.S. soybean oil.

The History of Soybean Oil

Did you know that soybean oil dates all the way back to 1000 A.D. in East Asia? It’s true! Even then, soybean oil was primarily used for cooking.

Fast forward to the early 1900s and soybean oil was being used commercially for a variety of food products in the U.S. In 1942, the U.S. became the world’s leading soybean oil producer, and in 1966, soybean oil passed butter to become the world’s leading edible oil.  

Advancements in biotechnology led to the introduction of enhanced soybeans in the 1990s, which helped farmers safely increase the amount of available soybean oil while also increasing crop efficiency. This means they planted less but were able to provide more. A win-win for people and planet!

Now, with sustainability top-of-mind, U.S. Soy farmers continue prioritizing eco-friendly production methods to ensure sustainable production of soybean oil in the U.S. As a result, U.S.-grown soybean oil has the lowest carbon footprint compared to soybean oil from other origins.

How Is Soybean Oil Made?

The journey from soybean to soybean oil all begins with the harvesting of soybeans. After that, soybean oil is made by following this three-step process:

  1. Cleaning: The harvested soybeans undergo a thorough cleaning process to remove dirt and other foreign particles. 
  2. Dehulling: Cleaned soybeans are dehulled, meaning the outer shell or hull is removed.
  3. Oil Extraction: The dehulled soybeans are then processed to extract the oil. The oil extraction process typically involves mechanical pressing or solvent extraction. 
  • Mechanical pressing entails crushing the soybeans to extract oil, yielding cold-pressed or expeller-pressed varieties with distinct flavors. 
  • Solvent extraction employs a solvent like hexane to dissolve the oil from soybean flakes. Residual hexane is then removed from the oil.

The resulting crude soybean oil then undergoes refining processes to enhance quality, remove impurities, and ensure that it’s ready for consumption – resulting in a final product that you can use every day! 

Why Choose Soybean Oil?

Soybean oil is full of good-for-you fats, Vitamin E, and omega-3. In addition, soybean oil boasts the following nutrition profile and health benefits:

  • May Reduce Inflammation: Soybean oil contains essential fatty acids like omega-6 and omega-3, which may help fight chronic conditions. Upping your intake of omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation, which is thought to be involved in the development of conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. 
    • Evidence also suggests that a diet high in whole foods containing omega-6 – the type of polyunsaturated fat found in soybean oil – along with a low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol diet may help lower cholesterol, blood sugar, and reduce heart disease. Fun fact: among seed oils, soybean oil has one of the highest amounts of polyunsaturated fats (omega-6). 
  • Promotes Skin Health: Soybean oil contains vitamin E, an anti-inflammatory nutrient that may support skin health. Studies show that vitamin E may protect against skin damage and help treat certain skin conditions, such as acne.

What Are Recipes That Use Soybean Oil?

With its endless variety and versatility, you can easily add soybean oil into your favorite lunch, dinner, dessert, or snack recipe. From crispy fried chicken to fluffy buttermilk cake doughnuts, soybean oil is sure to help you level up your cooking, and baking.

What are you waiting for? Go ahead and grab your soybean oil (a.k.a. vegetable oil!) from the pantry and give the below recipes a whirl.

Discover the Goodness of Soybean Oil

Whether you’re looking to level up your cooking game or just add more heart-healthy ingredients into your diet, soybean oil is a versatile, sustainable, and nutritious option. 

Soybean oil is just one of many soy food products. Learn more about the wide array of soy-based ingredients and start reaping the benefits of adding soy to your diet.