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Soybean versus other food grain legumes: A critical appraisal of the United Nations International Year of Pulses 2016

Sojabohne versus Körnerleguminosen: Eine kritische Würdigung des Internationalen Jahres der Körnerleguminosen 2016 der Vereinten Nationen

Johann Vollmann


The United Nations have declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses, which aims at communicating the various benefits of legume cropping and legume-protein-based food consumption. As the term “pulses” is inherently excluding soybean from other grain legumes, this review aims at challenging the scientific justification of this separation from both historical and crop science perspectives toward a better understanding of grain legumes and their contributions to food security. An analysis of the historical development and uses of the term “pulses” reveals that it is not used unambiguously throughout the recent scientific literature, and that the separation of soybean from other grain legumes occurred rather recently. Soybean, while being extensively used as an oilseed and animal feedstuff in some parts of the world, is an important protein crop species in other regions with a seed protein content of 40% and outstanding nutritional and food health properties as compared to most other grain legumes. Owing to similar agronomic features such as symbiotic nitrogen fixation and comparable seed protein properties, it does not seem scientifically justified to separate soybean from other food legumes. Therefore, focusing on “grain legumes” rather than “pulses” would better support food security and nutritional quality goals.