In processing soybeans for oil extraction and subsequent soy flour production, selection of high quality, sound, clean, dehulled yellow soybeans is very important. Soybeans having a dark colored seed coat, or even beans with a dark hilum will inadvertently leave dark specks in the flour, and are undesirable for use in commercial food products. All commercial soybeans in the United States are yellow or yellow brown.
To produce soybean oil, the soybeans are cracked, adjusted for moisture content, rolled into flakes and solvent-extracted with commercial hexane. The oil is then refined, blended for different applications, and sometimes hydrogenated. Soybean oils, both liquid and partially hydrogenated, are exported abroad, sold as "vegetable oil," or end up in a wide variety of processed foods. The remaining soybean husks are used mainly as animal feed.
The major unsaturated fatty acids in soybean oil triglycerides are 7% alpha-Linolenic acid (C-18:3); 51% linoleic acid (C-18:2); and 23% oleic acid (C-18:1). It also contains the saturated fatty acids 4% stearic acid and 10% palmitic acid.
Soybean oil has a relatively high proportion, 7–10%, of oxidation-prone linolenic acid, which is an undesirable property for continuous service, such as in a restaurant. In the early nineties, Iowa State University developed soybean oil with 1% linolenic acid in the oil. Three companies, Monsanto Company, DuPont/Bunge, and Asoyia in 2004 introduced low linolenic, (C18:3; cis-9, cis-12, cis-15 octadecatrienoic acid) Roundup Ready soybeans. In the past, hydrogenation was used to reduce the unsaturation in linolenic acid, but this produced the unnatural trans-fatty acid configuration, whereas in nature the configuration is cis (see trans fat). This external picture from North Dakota State University compares soybean oil fatty acid content with other oils.
In the 2002–2003 growing season, 30.6 million tons of soybean oil were produced worldwide, constituting about half of worldwide edible vegetable oil production, and thirty percent of all fats and oils produced, including animal fats and oils derived from tropical plants.
While soybean oil has no direct insect repellent activity, it is used as a fixative to extend the short duration of action of essential oils such as geranium oil in several commercial products.