History of Soy in Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Ocean Nations)

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and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

©Copyright 2004 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, Californi

The term "Australasia," which is not widely used in the Western World, refers primarily? to Australia and New Zealand. Another geographical term that encompasses these two nations is "Oceania," however it also includes the various Pacific Islands. Since these islands have almost no history relating to soybeans and soyfood, we have chosen to use the word "Oceania" in this Chapter's title.


The earliest known reference to soybeans in Australia was in 1911, as Europe was beginning to import large quantities of soybeans from East Asia and numerous articles on the subject were appearing. In that year Deschamp of the Department of Agriculture in Victoria (Australia's southernmost state, 37° south latitude) reported that in 1909 a quantity of soybean seed (variety unknown) was imported from the United States and grown at various locations in Victoria; they did quite well at Lilydale. In September 1910 a consignment was received from Shanghai via an Australian commercial agent there. These were grown for green fodder at Cheltenham and Lilydale, yielding 11-13 tons (10-11.8 tones) per acre. Deschamp published a chemical analysis of these plants but doubted that Australia could compete with Manchuria as a producer of soybean seed, since labor was much cheaper there. In 1911 the Victoria Department of Agriculture imported a large quantity of soybeans and distributed the seed to farmers for experimentation. In February 1912 the Journal of Agriculture of south Australia stated that "The soya bean has been hailed as one of Australia's coming crops." It reported "wonderful results in Queensland" and "encouraging tests in Victoria." Also in 1911 Australia's first article on soyfoods appeared. W. Bugby wrote "Soy Beans as Human Food," published in the Australian Daily Post and later reprinted in the Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review . He gave data on the nutritional composition of soybeans plus various home recipes.

In 1923 Piper and Morse in the USA reported that experiments with soybean as an oilseed in Victoria and Queensland, Australia, looked promising enough to indicate that "soybean can be grown successfully for seed in these provinces and that Australia would be able to enter into the world's trade as a source of supply of soybean seed."

The year 1947 saw the creation of the Commonwealth Mission of Investigation into the Soybean Industry in the USA. Located in Melbourne, they published a 54-page report that year (Ref??, not in Perry 1965) on the U.S. soybean industry and the potential for establishing a similar industry in Australia. The results looked promising and Australia's first commercial soybean production began in 1951 in the Kingaroy district of Queensland. Early acreage was restricted because of unsatisfactory returns and limited markets; all the soybeans were purchased for edible uses in soy flour and similar products (Perry 1965; see his info on CSIRO??).

One of the first companies to introduce soyfoods commercially in Australia was the Seventh-day Adventist Sanitarium Health Food Company. In 1954 they began to market Soya Beans in Tomato Sauce. The full story of this company's pioneering work with soyfoods and natural-food meatless diets is given in Chapter 58.11. Another soyfoods pioneer was V.R. Smith who founded Soy products of Australia Ltd. in 19?? and made Australia's first whole (full-fat) soy flour in 19??.

In 1962, with the entry of Australia's oilseed crushers and vegetable oil producer into the soybean market, and with a guaranteed price scheme and an assured market offered by the Linseed Crushers Association of Australia, there was a rapid rise in soybean acreage and increased interest in the crop in all states. The center of production continued to be Queensland, where soybeans were grown under natural rainfall; they required irrigation in the southern states. Soybean acreage in Queensland rose from an average of 870 acres in 1958-62, to 2,476 acres in 1963 and 4,133 acres in 1964. Research on the crop, including varietal testing, was done by CSIRO (Commercial/Commonwealth?? Scientific and INdustrial Research Organization) (Perry 1965).

Starting in the early 1970's Australia began to produce large quantities of soybeans. Throughout the 1960s, national production had averaged about 1,000 tonnes a year. Reaching 6,000 tonnes in 1970, it quickly climbed up to a peak of 99,000 tonnes in 1979, then fell to 73,000 tonnes by 1983 (Fig. ?.??). Most of these soybeans were grown on the eastern half of Australia, especially in Queensland and New South Wales. In the latter state irrigated acreage grew from 100 ha in 1968 to 15,000 ha in 1879, while yields rose from 290 to more than 2,000 kg/ha (July 1981). Most of these soybeans were used for oil and meal, the latter being used in Australia's huge livestock industry. Also with fertilizer prices being high in Australia, the soybean is expected to play an increasingly important role as a source of free nitrogen fertilizer.

Australia also imported some soybeans, oil, and meal, starting in the mid-1960s. Meal imports, the largest, averaged 10,000-20,000 tonnes a year for the period, and were 10,000 tonnes in 1980. Oil imports, averaging 6,000 tonnes in the late 1960s, peaked at 30,000 tonnes in 1976, then fell to 25,000 tonnes in 1980. Bean imports, peaking at 33,000 tonnes in 1974, were at 134,000 tonnes in 1980.

During the 1970s soyfoods came to be increasingly popular in Australia. After the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, there was a big influx of Vietnamese into Australia, swelling the number to 50,000, of which 30,000 are ethnic Chinese. This crated new markets for Asian soyfoods such as tofu, even though the majority of Australia's 15 million people, most of British descent, had little interest in new foods.

Starting in the late 1970s the soyfoods/soycrafters movement and the macrobiotic movement had begun to do pioneering work in introducing soyfoods such as tofu to Australia, and to the small but growing number of young people interested in natural foods and meatless diets. In August 1978 Marcea Newman and Yoshiko Wright started Australia's first known tofu shop, The Soybean Factory in Surry Hills, NSW. By early 1983 the country had seven tofu shops, three run by Caucasians and four run by Oriental Australians. Interest in tempeh in Australia began in about 1977, when McComb published an excellent BSc thesis on the subject. Australia's first tempeh shops were started in 1981 (Cyril and Elly Cain had a pioneering tempeh shop in Eumundi, QLD) and by 1983 the country had four tempeh shops, all run by Caucasians. Surprisingly there were no Indonesian-run shops, although Indonesia was Australia's western neighbor. Small companies also made soymilk ice cream, soyburgers, tofu rice sandwiches, soysage rolls, and Soy Vegetable Pasties. New-Age publications such as Cosmos and Ziriuz ran a number of articles on soyfoods after 1980, some written by Shurtleff and Aoyagi (1980, 1982) in the U.S.

Earlier soyfoods manufacturing were doing well by the early 1980s. The Sanitarium Food Company produced 13 products containing soy (usually flour or isolate added to a gluten base to make meat analogs, see Chapter 58.11), and they were extruding their own textured soy protein, using three extruders. Soy Products of Australia was making full-fat soy grits, Soy Crunch (a breakfast cereal containing soy grits), and Soy Compound (containing dry soymilk, whole soy flour, malt, and lactose); their market was mainly for children allergic to cow's milk.


The earliest known reference to soybeans in New Zealand, as in Australia, was in 1911. Between 1911 and 1913 Ref?? the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture ran a number of short articles on soybeans. Apparently these were first planted in New Zealand in December 1910, giving yields of 960-1,450 lb. per acre (1078-1629 kg/ha). In June 1911 soybeans were included in an exhibit at the Tauranga Experimental Farm and praised for their value as a fodder plant. In late 1911 nine soybean varieties were received from the US Department of Agriculture and tested, but poor yields in 1912 and 1913 led officials to conclude that the climate was too uncertain and the plant did not look promising.

Soybeans and soyfoods were slow to catch on in New Zealand, and little work was done over the years. In 1973 C.E. Clinkard wrote a book titled Soya, The Wonder Food . In about 1981 the first tofu shop was started and by 1983 the country had at least three tofu shops. Production of soybeans and imports of soybeans and soybean products were insignificant to this country whose population in 1981 was only 3.1 million.