Soybeans are one of the most prevalently grown and used oilseeds. Uses range from human foods to animal foods, to industrial products, to ingredients, and to precursor materials. A key step to utilizing soybeans is to separate oil from protein and fiber. This has historically been accomplished using either solvent extraction or expeller pressing—both result in oil and protein-rich meals. Drawbacks of solvent-based oil extraction from soybeans have led to increased usage of aqueous extraction systems, where water can be used as the extraction medium; the basic principle of separation of oil is its immiscibility in water.
Hydrolytic enzymes such as proteases and cellulases can further facilitate aqueous extraction by breaking the cell walls of soybeans and by breaking protein networks, which can more readily release the oil molecules. Physical or enzymatic pretreatments of soybeans can make extraction of oil and downstream processing easier and faster when compared to solvent-based oil extraction alone. Continued evolution in soybean processing operations and efficiencies will help soybeans remain a critical substrate for foods, feeds, fuels, and bio-based materials.