History of Soy
First China and from there The World
Soybeans first took root as early as the 11th century BC in northern China, where they were among the first crops grown by man.1 The ancient Chinese honored soybeans as one of the five sacred grains essential to the existence of Chinese civilization, and considered the soybean both a food and a medicine. Over the next several centuries, the Chinese domesticated the wild soybean plant. Soon, however, the rest of the world would discover the virtues of this versatile plant.
Spread of Soybeans
By the first century AD, soybeans appear to have spread to central and southern China and Korea. In the 7th century, soybeans made their way to Japan, and then to Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Nepal and northern India.
Even in its early history, the soybean was highly regarded and the source of a wide variety of foods. The three most important soy foods in traditional Asian cuisine were miso, tempeh, and tofu.
Soybeans to the West
It wasn't until the 17th century that European visitors to the East became aware of this unfamiliar bean from which Asians made many different foods. Soy first reached Western shores as imported soy sauce, and soybeans were being grown in Europe by the 18th century.
In 1765, the first soybean plant hit North American soil. Initially, American soybeans were used to make soy sauce and soy noodles for export to England. Benjamin Franklin also had a hand in introducing soybeans to America when he sent seeds from London to a botanist friend in North America in 1770.
Gradually, soybeans spread to farming areas that remain soy-growing states today, and were grown primarily to feed animals. Even though extensive research began to reveal the soybean's superior nutrition, it didn't become an important food crop until the 1920's. By World War I, soybeans were valued as a source of oil and of inexpensive, high-quality protein.