History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Europe (incl. Eastern Europe and the USSR (1597 - Mid 1980s) - Part 6

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and Soyfoods: 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

Copyright 2007 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

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(England, Scotland, Wales, N. Ireland)

1920-1939. After World War I British imports of soybeans and soy products increased rapidly, rising to a peak of 207,000 tonnes in 1929, then gradually declining to almost nothing at the start of World War II. Britain was Europe's third largest soybean importer after Germany and Denmark (Fig. ??.??). Net imports of soy oil and of total soy oil and soybeans in terms of oil followed roughly the same pattern, with the latter peaking at 48,000 tonnes in 1932 and being second in Europe behind Germany. From the end of World War I until the late 1920s (when she was passed by Germany), Britain was Europe's leading soy oil producing and refining nation, and was also the world's leader in solvent extraction until the early 1920s, until surpassed by Germany.

In 1924 a soyfoods dinner was given by the British Empire League in London, probably in conjunction with a visit or work by Dr. L. Berczeller. Winston Churchill attended and later (Ref??) he published some articles in the London Times about soyfoods (Arnould 1960).

In 1927 the two arch-rival Dutch margarine firms Jurgens and Van den Bergh merged to form Margarine Unie, which in turn merged with Lever Brothers in 1929 to form Unilever, the largest oil and margarine company in the world. It used large amounts of soy oil in vegetable oil and margarine both in England and abroad (Wilson 1954; Switzer 1956).

In 1929 Soy Foods Ltd. and the Soyolk Society in Rickmansworth, Herts (North London), started to produce a soy flour brand-named Soyolk by the Berczeller process. By 1932 Soyolk was reported to be used increasingly in English foods, partially to replace eggs, milk, and chocolate. Berczeller obtained four patents on the flour and related products between 1929 and 1933. He lived for a long time in London during the late 1920s and early 1930s, working with soy flour and larger issues related to Europe's food supply. Soyolk soy flour became quite popular. In 1929 a book entitled The Soya Bean and the New Soya Flour , translated from the Dutch by Ferree, was published in London; it described Berczeller and his work with soy flour.

Relatively little work was done with traditional East Asian soyfoods during this period. Dyson (1928) wrote about fermented tofu and large volumes by Burkill (1935) referred to various Indonesian soyfoods, including tempeh.

Some serious attempts were made during this period to grow soybeans in England. Pioneering work was done as early as 1913 by J.L. North, curator of the Royal Botanic Society of London, in adapting soybeans to English conditions. He worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens in London (latitude 51*30'N). In 1921 he wrote an article about soybeans and soyfoods entitled "To Solve the Cost of Living Problem? A Magic Bean." By 1923, using early varieties introduced from various sources, North was able to select two or three early strains, which matured fully and gave good yields. In 1932 Henry Ford acquired a 2,000 acre (810 ha) estate in Boreham, Essex. He wanted part of the land to be devoted to growing soybeans, so he worked with J.L. North. North eventually surmounted great difficulties (including England's very northerly latitude and cold, foggy weather) and in 1933-34 was able to raise England's first successful crop of soybeans at the Fordson Estates Ltd. Good crops were then produced each year up to and including 1936. North obtained some help from William Morse of the USDA. Eventually he acclimatized four early-maturing varieties, which gave good yields. This was a great encouragement to British farmers, who then began more work with growing soybeans (Bowdidge 1935; Gray 1936; Kale 1936).

England's first full book on soybeans and soyfoods was Elizabeth Bowdidge's The Soya Bean: Its History, Cultivation (in England), and Uses , published by Oxford University Press in 1935. In the 83-page work she praised soybeans as the world's most valuable legume and encouraged farmers to make a serious effort to grow them. She noted that there were many foods "on the London market under names that conceal their soya bean origin," and that soy flour was widely used to make soya bread, breakfast foods, biscuits, cakes, and macaroni. Yet she added "It is unfortunate that the inherent conservatism of the English people to anything new has been the cause of past failures to popularize soya bean food products . . . "

The next year, 1936, two more important books on soy were published by Britishers, both of whom had lived for a long time in Asia. The first was G.D. Gray's All About the Soya Bean , published in London. Gray, a medical officer for many years in China, wrote the book after he retired. He discussed a variety of Chinese soyfoods (including fermented tofu), noted that two companies making soyfoods in England were Dietetic Foods Ltd. and Soya Foods Ltd., lamented that soymilk was not generally available, urged the British government to follow the US government in supporting and financing soybean research and development work, and encouraged the establishment of a "Soya Association" in England to promote soybeans and soyfoods. The previous year (1935) he had written an article about soybeans in international trade. The second book published in 1936 was F.S. Kale's remarkable Soya Bean: Its Value in Dietetics, Cultivation and Uses . Published in India, it is reviewed in Chapter 18 under India. The fact that three major books appeared in 2 years indicates a growing interest in their subject. According to George Strayer of the American Soybean Association (personal communication 1980) there was also a soyfoods exposition in England in 1980. It may have been sponsored by the ASA to promote sales of soybeans abroad. Some 200 soyfoods collected in East Asia by William Morse in 1929-31 were displayed.

1940-1959. In mid-1940 the London Times did a lengthy article on the importance of soyfoods, especially soy flour, in Germany, calling it the Nazi's "secret weapon." During World War II soy flour was used extensively in Britain as a substitute for meat, milk, eggs, and flour in a vast array of basic foods including sausages, spaghetti, bread, and marzipan. Most of the soy flour was supplied by the US under the Lend-Lease Act starting in March 1941, but quite a bit of whole (full-fat) soy flour was also produced from imported soybeans by British companies, especially Soya Foods Ltd. This company, with offices in Boreham Holt, Elstree and a plant at Rickmansworth (Herts.) made Soyolk and other brands of soy flour and, during the 1940s, published a number of pamphlets describing the products and giving recipes. As meat became scarce in Britain during the war, soy flour started to be overused, especially in sausages and "soylinks," which started out as mostly meat and ended up as mostly soy flour, and largely inedible. Soy developed the image of a bad-tasting ersatz foodstuff and the English came to dislike any food with the name "soy" attached to it, in part because of poor product formulations and the use of low quality soy flour. The idea of soy as a source of low-cost high-quality protein was set back 2 decades or more (Learmonth 1963; Fischer 1967).

The anti-soy faction of the British food industry (which was large; who were they??) gleefully predicted the demise of the soy industry as soon as wartime rationing ended. Indeed when it did end, in the early 1950s, there was a lull in soy flour usage, but soon sales began to pick up as it came to be used on its own merits, not as a substitute but as a functional ingredient.

Soybean imports, sharply reduced during the war, started again in 1945 and by 1950 had reached 25,000 tonnes, rising to 130,000 tonnes by 1939. Soy oil imports climbed from 4,700 tonnes in 1950 to 12,000 tonnes in 1959.

The first new soyfood to be introduced in England in the postwar period was Canned Soya Beans in Tomato Sauce, launched in the late 1950s by Granose, a Seventh-day Adventist company.

1960-1982. It took a long time for soyfoods to live down the bad image they had acquired during World War II. Gradually, however, it was forgotten, and by the early 1960s Learmonth (1963) of British Soya Products Ltd. was able to report that "the future of soya as human food in the United Kingdom . . . looks promising." At about this time the Soybean Council of America (see Chapter 55, ASA) was also promoting the use of soyfoods in Britain and the country steadily expanded its use of soy oil, as in margarine and related products.

Soybean imports remained quite static during the 1960s, averaging about 260,000 tonnes a year, then they rose sharply during the 1970s, from 360,000 tonnes in 1970 to 1,150,000 in 1980, at which time the UK was the fourth largest soybean importer in Europe, after West Germany, Netherlands, Spain, and Italy. Oil imports likewise were static during the 1960s at about 20,000 tonnes, but by 1980 they had risen to 62,000 tonnes. Meal imports rose from 215,000 tonnes in 1960 to 620,000 tonnes in 1980, fifth in Europe.

In 1980 the UK with a population of 56 million people (third largest in Europe), had the sixth largest soy oil consumption of eight EEC countries, only 4.56 kg per person a year. Soybean crushing capacity was also low (fifth) at 1.4 million tonnes.

In 1973 sharp increases in soybean prices and restrictions on US exports stimulated new interest in growing soybeans in England and northwest Europe. The principal limitations are insufficient warmth (especially at night) and moisture during the growing season, a day length that is several hours too long during the plant's flowering period, the short cool of English summers, then rains and humidity at harvest time that may hinder mechanical harvesting. The Fiskeby V was the only soybean variety deemed worthy of consideration but grain yield were too low and too variable from year to year, and the lowest-borne pods were too near the ground for combine harvesting (Radley 1974). When world soybean prices fell to normal levels the idea of commercial soybean production in England was largely forgotten.

The rise of modern soy protein foods in the late 1960s and early 1970s led to a new type of interest in soy in England. As a follow-up to the highly successful Munich Soy Protein Conference of 1973, a Soya Protein Conference and Exhibition was held at the Cunard International Hotel in London on October 21-22, 1975. Cosponsored by the American Soybean Association and the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, the conference attracted well over 400 registrants and focused on the use of modern soy protein products in institutional and school feeding programs, primarily as an extender for animal products, such as TVP with ground beef. A UK Vegetable Protein Association was formed to disseminate information on the new soyfoods and to work for favorable legislation. In 1981 Dorothy H. Forster wrote Cooking with TVP , a popular 96-page book containing many recipes.

Although British agronomists had given up trying to make the soybean a viable farm crop in the UK, in 1968 Ray Whisker began experimenting with growing soybeans (especially large-seeded vegetable type soybeans) in his small urban garden at East Mosely, Surrey, in the south east of the British Isles. Breeding soybeans to suit the climate and for use as a high-protein vegetable in home gardens, he soon built up the largest collection of soybean seed in private hands anywhere in the UK. In 1969 he began growing Fiskeby V from Sweden-- with good results, and by the 1970s this vegetable type soybean, excellent in its edible green form, was available for home gardeners from Thompson & Morgan seed dealers. By 1975 Whisker had evaluated more than 200 varieties and strains from 18 countries and sent well over 25,000 seeds to Peking at the request of the Chinese government. In 1977 Whisker and Pamela Dixon wrote The Soybean Grow and Cook Book (64 pages), which drew new attention to both home gardening and soyfoods recipes. They wrote:

The word `soybean' still conjures up the mental picture of a necessary but uninteresting substance used as an extender when meat is short or expensive. There is also a lingering suspicion that you may be fed disguised soybean when you intend to eat something else. The word `substitute' has always had an unpleasant ring, and most English people are content to relegate the soybean to its role as a farm crop.


The book's interesting recipes attempted to overcome this problem. Whisker continued his breeding work. By 1980, in a major popular article on "The Great Bean of China," he reported that he had developed several soybean strains (including Gemsoy II) that yielded better than the widely available Fiskeby V from Sweden. Over the years his work and writing were important in popularizing the growing and use of soybeans in the UK.

During the 1970s one English company that made a creative line of soybeans was Itona Products Ltd. in Wigan. Founded in 19??, the company began to make soyfoods in 19??. Its first product was ?? As of 1980 the company's line included seven types of TVP (textured soy protein), soymilk, Golden Archer Concentrated Soya Plantmilk, soymilk custard, soymilk and brown rice pudding, Noots soynuts, Beanoot soynut butter, Noot Bar (containing soynuts, soy flour, lecithin), Itona Super Soya Lecithin in Soya Flour Powder, and High Fibre Biscuits (cookies, containing soy fiber and soy flour). These foods were widely used by vegetarians and others interested in healthful diets. Another company making soymilk was Plamil Foods in Folkestone, Kent. And the British Arkady Company made TVP and soy flour. Starting in the early 1970s extensive and very important research and publication on traditional fermented soyfoods began at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, under the direction of Dr. Brian J.B. Wood of the Department of Applied Microbiology. In 1971 Yong wrote his MS thesis on soy sauce fermentation. In 1974 Yong and Wood wrote "The Microbiology and Biochemistry of Soy Sauce Fermentation," a definitive 38-page study containing 270 references. In 1976 Yong and Wood developed a new quick method for making fermented soy sauce. They planned to open a large soy sauce plant in Scotland in 1982??. Other studies by this group included Yong and Wood (1977, soy sauce), Abiose (1979, miso), Wood (1981, new fermented foods and tofu), Abiose et al. (1982, miso), and Wood (1982, soy sauce and miso). More on Wood's creative work with tofu is given in Chapter 28. We feel that this soyfoods work in Scotland is some of the finest and most imaginative being done in the UK. Another?? center of interest in soyfoods (tempeh) was the Department of Botany and Microbiology, University of Wales at Aberystwyth, Wales.

Starting in the early 1980s the soyfoods/soycrafters movement began to take root in Britain, with strong support from the macrobiotic movement. By 1982 in England there were four tofu plants (a number of them Chinese-run) and one tempeh plant in England. The East West Center, the Kushi Institute, and the Community Health Foundation were very active in promoting soyfoods. Home scale production of tofu, tempeh, and miso were taught by Jon Sandler and others, and Paul Jones did pioneering work with tofu. Macrobiotic distributing companies Harmony and Sunwheel helped the new foods to reach the people.

In January 1978 the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux at Farnham Royal, Bucks, publishers of the world-famous Food Science and Technology Abstracts , introduced a new publication, Soyabean Abstracts , with summaries of publications on soybeans and soyfoods from around the world.

How does the future of soyfoods look in Britain? As Bowdidge noted in 1935, the inherent conservatism of the British makes introducing new foods a slow process. But there is one unusual fact from which we may perhaps draw some small hope. The English eat more beans per person than anyone else in the world, an astonishing 4.5 million cans of beans per day?? (The beans are typically baked in tomato sauce.)


While Eastern Europe only first emerged as a politico-economic block in 1945, this group of countries, most of which speak languages that are not well known in the West, has long been distinct from Western Europe. Relatively little is known of the history of soybeans and soyfoods in Eastern Europe, in part because very little of the literature on this subject has been translated into Western European languages and in part, we suspect, because less work has been done there with soyfoods. Nevertheless since the 1930s most of the soybeans grown in Europe have been grown in Eastern Europe, especially in southern countries with fertile land and relatively low population densities. In this section we will discuss the main soybean countries in Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia) as a group. We will treat the USSR in the next section.

1870s-1919. One of Europe's great soyfoods pioneers, Prof. Friedrich Haberlandt, was born in Czechoslovakia in 1826, then studied and taught at the agricultural college in Hungarian Altenburg, where he was active in the 1850s and 1860s. His extensive and highly influential work with soybeans from 1873-78 was done mostly in Vienna, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and is described under Austria. In 1877 one of Haberlandt's cooperators grew soybeans in Russian Poland. In 1878 Haberlandt wrote that Mr. Franz Mark in Budapest, Hungary, had first called his attention to the use of the soybean as a chocolate substitute. Thus we can probably assume that soybeans and soyfoods were known in Hungary before that time. The earliest known Eastern European article on soyfoods appeared in 1889, when Belohoubek^ wrote an article on shoyu (soy sauce). Also prior to 1899 Czeczott did culture tests in Grodno (Lithuania), a very northern area; the plants matured. Czeczott advised using the soybean as an oilseed and feeding the cake to livestock (Courriere 1899).

Li and Grandvoinnet (1912) reported from France that soybeans had been grown in Moravia (central Czechoslovakia) and at Schlag near Breslau (Wroclaw) in Poland. They did not state when or by whom.

In 1913 Marschner (Ref??) of Prague, Czechoslovakia, began to market a soybean "coffee without caffeine" under the trademark Santosa. In 1916, also in Prague, Prof. Laxa did much to encourage the use of soymilk and developed one of the earliest known methods for making it in home kitchens as a nutritious and economical beverage. The last known mention of soy coffee in Europe was in 1936, when Spirk (Ref??) noted that some of the native soybeans were made into Kaboul, a coffee substitute.

1920-1939. During the 1920s and 1930s Laszlo Berczeller, who was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1885, did pioneering work in developing and introducing whole (full-fat) soy flour to Europe. Most of his work, however, was done in Vienna and in Western Europe, so his story is told at Austria and at Chapter 51. By the early 1920s Hungary had plans for extensive production and utilization of Berczeller's soy flour and by 1927 a factory in Budapest was making the flour; that year the Food Ministry of the Hungarian Government gave a glowing testimonial to the excellence of the product. By 1929 a second production plant was being planned for Budapest because of the large demand there. The Hungarian Ministry of Public Health did nutritional studies on Berczeller's soy flour and strongly supported his work.

The earliest known promoter of soybeans and soyfoods in Bulgaria was Dr. Assen Zlataroff, a Professor of Nutrition at the Medical-Chemical Institute in Sofia. In 1921 he and J.(I?) Trifoneff (Trifonow) wrote (in Bulgarian) a brochure on the soybean, its cultivation, composition, and value as food (Ref??). In 1922 they wrote an article in German on soybeans in Bulgaria. Then in 1926 Zlataroff wrote a lengthy article in German on "The Soybean and Its Value as a Foodstuff." There he noted the increased interest in and planting of soybeans in Eastern Europe, published nutritional analyses of soybeans grown in Bulgaria between 1917 and 1922, spoke at length and with the highest praise for tofu (see Chapter 28), giving recipes and describing briefly how to make it, and also discussed soymilk. In 1934 Zlataroff and Karapetkov wrote "Biochemical Investigations on Soybeans and Soymilk."

The only significant importer of soybeans and products during this period was Poland (including Danzig). In 1929-33 Poland imported 10,886 tonnes of soy oil, but no soybeans or meal. In 1934-38 oil imports dropped to 1,000 tonnes but soybean imports to Poland rose to 2,400 tonnes, and meal to 8,700 tonnes.

In the early 1930s, as Germany began to prepare for war, the German government began to search for local sources of oil and protein. In about 1933 the Germans (primarily two large companies) began a program of encouraging large-scale soybean planting in the Danubian countries, particularly in Romania and Bulgaria, by distributing selected seed and inocula and guaranteeing a specific, very attractive price for the soybeans from the contracted acreage. Largely as a result of this arrangement soybean production in the combined five countries of Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Austria jumped from 8,000 tonnes in 1934 to rather dramatic highs in the early 1940s.

1940-1959. Soybean production in the five Danubian countries reached a peak of 125,000 tonnes in 1941 (Fig. ?.??), then fell to only 5,000 tonnes in 1945 as Germany lost World War II. Romanian soybean production hit a peak of 82,000 tonnes in 1939 and 1940, more than 71% of the 5-country total, and Bulgarian production peaked at 68,000 tonnes in 1948, accounting for 54% of the combined total. Also in 1941 Hungarian production peaked at 27,200 tonnes, some 22% of the combined total (Burtis 1950). Yugoslavia soybean production was first reported in 1933, but no subsequent statistics were recorded until 1951. Most of these early soybeans are thought to have been exported to Germany, but a portion must have been used in each country, especially in the later war years. Nothing is known of how they were used.

By the early 1950s small amounts of soybeans continued to be produced in Eastern Europe. In 1950 each country was growing an estimated 2,000 tonnes a year. In 1955 Romania was producing 14,000 tonnes, but this declined steadily to a low of 1,000 tonnes in 1965. Yugoslavian production reached 14,000 tonnes in 1959, then fell to a low of 3,000 tonnes in 1968.

During the latter half of the 1950s there were several significant soybean importers in Eastern Europe; Poland (peak of 105,000 tonnes in 1957), Hungary (peak of 52,000 tonnes in 1959), and Czechoslovakia (peak of 58,000 tonnes in 1959).

1960-1983. Renewed interest in soybean production in Eastern Europe began in 1966, with Romania leading the way. Production jumped from 20,000 tonnes that year to 298,000 tonnes in 1974, then rose to 448,000 tonnes in 1980. Bulgarian production took off in 1971 and by 1980 had reached 107,000 tonnes. Yugoslavia was in third place, followed by Hungary, all producing more than 30,000 tonnes a year in 1980. The only Western European countries with significant soybean production were Spain (18,000 tonnes) and France (14,000 tonnes, growing to 23,000 in 1981).

Soybean imports declined dramatically from the late 1950s until 1963-64, then recovered slowly with Poland leading the way. There were major import increases from 1976 on, as Eastern Europe tried to increase output of meat, dairy products, and eggs. In 1980 leading soybean importers were Romania and Poland in first place (270,000 tonnes), followed by Yugoslavia (210,000), East Germany (GDR, 72,000 tonnes) and Czechoslovakia (36,000 tonnes). There were eight nations in Western Europe with larger soybean imports than Poland or Romania. Poland, with a population of 35.8 million in 1980, was Eastern Europe's largest nation, followed by Yugoslavia (22.6 million) and Romania (22.5 million).

Soy oil imports oscillated dramatically from 1956-57 (when Yugoslavia and Poland started importing) to 1980, when the big importers were East Germany (89,000 tonnes), Yugoslavia (65,000 tonnes), and Poland (36,000 tonnes). These figures were comparable with the high figures in Western Europe.

Imports of soybean meal rose steadily and dramatically throughout these 2 decades in all Eastern European countries as part of expanded livestock programs (Fig. ?.??). Many countries expanded meal imports 100-fold in less than 20 years. In 1980 the top meal importers were Poland (1,150,000 tonnes), East Germany (1,050,000 tonnes), Czechoslovakia (68,000 tonnes), and Hungary (61,000 tonnes). In Western Europe, only France and West Germany imported more meal than Poland in 1980.

Apparently, starting in the 1970s, large amounts of textured soy flour (TVP) were used in Eastern Europe as an extender for ground meats. Poland was a major user. With the persistent shortages of meat in Eastern European countries and the widespread availability of locally grown soybeans, there would seem to be a great potential for using these soybeans as textured soy flour, tofu, and soy flour. It is a great shame that tofu is not better known in this area, for it would fit nicely into the dietary patterns and its production would provide many jobs.

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