History of Soynuts and Soynut Butter

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A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and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

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Soynuts are whole soybeans processed to taste like nuts and to be used like nuts. Recall that peanuts are not really nuts, but rather legumes, just as soybeans are. There are two basic types: oil roasted soynuts , which are deep-fried, and dry roasted soynuts, which are roasted and toasted in an oven, dry skillet, coffee roaster, or drum roaster.

Soynut butter is made, very much like peanut butter, by grinding oil roasted or dry roasted soynuts, generally together with some added oil.

Etymology . In Japan, dry roasted soynuts are called iri-mame ^ ("roasted beans"). In China, oil roasted soynuts are called zha huangdou ("fried yellow beans") or cui huangdou. Dry roasted soynuts are called chao dou . In Indonesia, oil roasted soynuts are called dele sangan or kedele sangrai . In Korea, dry roasted soynuts are called ??. They are unknown in other East Asian countries.

In English, soynuts have been known by a host of different names. In the early days they were called "roasted soybeans (Piper and Morse 1923), "Soy Beanuts" or "parched soy beans" (D. Van Gundy 1936), and "Salted Soybeans" (Henry Ford 1934 Ref??). The earliest known use of the term "Soy-Nuts" was by Butler Foods in about 1942. The term "soy nuts" was used by Heler and McCarthy (1944), Malt-O-Meal (from 1970), and The Farm (1974). The present term "Soynuts" spelled as one word was first used by the Borden Co. in 1948. Other names were "toasted soybeans" (Lager 1945) and "fried soybeans" (Blumenthal 1947). The more precise expanded terminology "oil roasted soynuts" and "dry roasted soynuts" was coined by Shurtleff in 1981.

Following the present English usage, soynuts are now called Sojanusse in German, Soya-nuez or soha-huates in Spanish. In French, oil roasted soynuts are called Soja grille^ revenu dans l'huile, and dry roasted are soja grille^ a sec.

Soynut butter was first known as "soy bean butter" (Lager 1936) and "soy butter" ( Soybean Digest 1943). Horn (1972 Ref??) called it "soybean butter." Shurtleff (1981) coined the term "soynut butter."


Since ancient times, dry roasted soynuts have been the most popular of the two types throughout East Asia, yet relatively little is known of their origins or history.

China . Like most other basic soyfoods, soynuts probably originated in China. The earliest known reference is from the Pen-ts'ao kang-mu , a materia medica written by Li Shih-chen (1578-97). Here it is stated that dry roasted soynuts existed in China during the T'ang dynasty (618-907), and that T'ang pharmacologists, claiming to have discovered various somatic effects of the beans, considered them to be "excessively heating" (Chang 1977, p. 90). The earliest known reference to oil roasted soynuts appeared in the T'u Ching Yen I Pen Tsao , a materia medica by Kou Tsung-shih from the Sun dynasty (960-1127). There it is stated that fried soybeans have a "heating effect" (Wu 1848). Given that whole soybeans were consumed before the Christian era, and that the techniques of dry roasting in a skillet or in sand, or deep frying were probably known during this period, it would not be surprising to learn that soynuts were prepared then.

In 1923 Piper and Morse wrote, "In China, dried soybeans are soaked in water and roasted, this product being eaten after the manner of roasted peanuts." In 1929-31, during his expedition to China, Morse observed these dry roasted soynuts and noted that the water in which they were soaked was sometimes salted. Gray (1936) made similar observations.

Little is known about dry roasted or oil roasted soynuts in China today, except that they are not very popular. It is unusual that these easy-to-make, delicious, and extremely versatile soyfoods, long popular in Japan and increasingly popular in the West, seem to have largely disappeared in China. They have probably been replaced by roasted peanuts. Shurtleff and Aoyagi (1975) reported seeing one confection in a Chinese food exhibition in Japan in which roasted soy flour was mixed with peanut butter and a sweetener, then shaped into delicious little balls.

Japan . In Japan dry roasted soynuts ( iri-mame ^) are extremely popular. They continue to play a key role in one of the country's most ancient and widely observed celebrations of ritual purification. On Setsubun (February 2), the last day of winter, as determined by Japan's traditional lunar calendar, the Bean Throwing Ceremony ( mame-maki ) takes place. In temples and homes throughout Japan roasted soybeans, called fuku-mame ^ or "beans of good fortune" are scattered by the handful in each room, then tossed through an open window into the cold night air with everyone chanting "Out with all evils; in with good fortune." Finally, each person picks up (from the clean tatami-mat floors) a number of soynuts equal to his or her age in years and all enjoy a common snack or small feast. We have never heard a good explanation as to why it is soybeans that are used in this ceremony, when and how it originated, and what symbolic significance the soybeans may have.

William Morse, during his expedition to Japan in 1929-31, noted that "Roasted soybeans, similar to our roasted peanuts, may be found at nearly all confectionery stores. Roasted soybeans are also sugar-coated and others are sprinkled with small pieces of sea-weed ( nori ) during the roasting." He also described mame-cha , (consisting of dry roasted soybeans, tea, and roasted barley or pine needles), soybeans in toasted rice crackers ( senbei ) or Marzipan crunchy cakes, a dough-covered soybeans (presumably deep-fried). He also said, apparently concerning the Bean Throwing Ceremony, "At certain seasons of the year the Japanese go to temples and get consecrated soybeans. And to keep the devils out, they use bean stalks fastened to their doors." These customs are no longer widely practiced.

By the 1980s in Japan, dry roasted soynuts were being used in a variety of commercial snack foods. Mishima Mame ^ are a crunchy, semi-sweet snack made of soybeans covered with multiple coatings of starch, sugar, and nori flakes. Omamesan or Iso Mame ^ are soybeans soaked in salt water or light-colored shoyu, dusted with nori flakes, and roasted slowly. Irori mame is a similar product made from green-seeded soybeans (without nori) that have a crunchy texture and a greenish beige color. Oil roasted soynuts are not, apparently, a traditional food in Japan, and we know of no commercial varieties available in 1981. We once saw soaked dry soybeans dipped in a batter, then deep-fried to give a crunchy product resembling peanut brittle.

Other East Asia . Smith (1949), during a visit to Korea, noted that dry soybeans are simply placed in a pan over a fire and heated slowly until the skin breaks, then eaten like peanuts or mixed with other foods. They are not, however, widely consumed, and no mention of them is made in Wang and Lee's excellent "Traditional Soybean Foods in Korea" (1978). In Java, Indonesia, dry roasted soynuts are served as a popular topping for the festive Yellow Rice ( Nasi Kuning ). Soybeans are also deep-fried with batter to form thin crisps called Peyek or Rempeyek and Goreng-an . Oil roasted soynuts have recently become popular in Morocco and are also produced on a small scale in India at Pantnagar University (Singh 1978).

In Nepal, soybeans grown on family farms are often dry roasted in the home, then used as a main ingredient in a number of very popular dishes, as described in Chapter 6. Dry roasted soynuts are the most popular soyfood in Nepal.


Surprisingly little work has been done with soynuts in Europe. The earliest known reference to them was by Loureiro in 1793. He wrote in Latin: "uses: These seeds, having been boiled or lightly toasted, are quite acceptable to both the stomach and the palate." It would appear that he tasted them himself, although it is not clear where. Prior to 1879 an article on soybeans was written in Munich by an unknown author (cited by Cook 1879), who said of the soybean: "Its seeds, boiled or roasted, have a pleasant taste, and form an almost daily part of the food in India, China, and Japan."

Soynuts were not mentioned by any of Europe's early soyfoods pioneers, such as Paillieux, Haberlandt, or Li Yu-ying. (No fried SB??) The next reference was by the French physician Le Goff (1911), who included in his suggestions for cooking whole soybeans: "Grilled Soy Beans--The beans may be grilled like chestnuts, using the same method. If the beans are old and dry they should be first soaked in warm water." No other European references are known prior to 1970.

During the 1970s Arkady Mills began to make and market commercial oil roasted soynuts, using a patented flash-frying technique, which caused the soybeans to expand and develop a texture "virtually indistinguishable from that of roasted tree nuts or peanuts." Other soynuts makers in Europe in 1981 were Itona Products Ltd. in England (their product was brand-named Noots) and Solnuts in the Netherlands.


Early Developments (1879-1939) . The earliest known reference to soynuts in the US was by Cook of Rutgers University in 1879. He published an English translation of the article from Munich (cited above) that mentioned dry roasted soynuts. An 1882 article in the Rural New-Yorker also carried a full translation of this article.

In 1916 John Leonard Kellogg (apparently?? no relation to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, soyfoods pioneer from Battle Creek, Michigan) was granted the world's first patent for roasted soynuts (oil or dry) and for a soynut butter containing added oil (US Patent No. 1,189,128). Interestingly, the patent was assigned to the Kellogg Toasted Corn Flake Company of Battle Creek, then owned by Will Kellogg, younger brother of John Harvey. In 1918 Itano recommended roasting soybeans in an ordinary corn popper, advice repeated by Bowers in 1919. Also in 1918, as part of the World War I food program, Wenona Windsor, of the Department of Home Economics, University of Missouri, gave the first home recipe for oil roasted soynuts (she called them "Browned Soybeans"): "Soak soybeans overnight in salt water. Drain and fry in deep fat. These may be used in candy making like peanuts." In 1923 Piper and Morse, under the subtitle "Soybean Confections" described dry roasted soynuts and soynut butter. For the former they recommended soaking the beans for about 12 hours in a 10% salt solution, boiling slowly for about 30 minutes, then roasting to a light brown color. They did the first known analysis of dry roasted soynuts and found they contained 39.6% protein, 17.3% fat, 3.6% moisture, and 6.8% ash (including the NaC1).

America's first known commercial soynuts (and soynut butter) were made by T.A. Van Gundy's La Sierra Foods starting in about 1929. He called the oil roasted soynuts "Soy Beanuts," and the butter "Beanut Butter" (D. Van Gundy 1936; Charlotte Holmes 1981, personal communication).

Henry Ford did early pioneering work with soynuts. At the 1934 "Century of Progress" Chicago World's Fair, Ford served lightly salted oil roasted soynuts (made from large-seeded vegetable-type soybeans) to hundreds of thousands of visitors at the Ford Motor Company display (Ref??). He also served these soynuts (which were listed on the menu as "Salted Soybeans" at a famous press luncheon at the Fair. During the 1930s, thousands of visitors at Ford's Greenfield Village (see Chapter 40) enjoyed salted soynuts (packaged like salted peanuts) and the world's first chocolate coated soynuts (the chocolate was mixed with soy lecithin).

During the late 1930s soynuts became quite famous in Chicago, where they were very effectively marketed as Salted Soys by a big downtown specialty store called Stop and Shop. The name of the manufacturer is not known (Strayer 1980, personal communication). Whiteman and Keyt's 1938 USDA Bulletin No. 166 contained a recipe for oil roasted soynuts.

1940-1969 . During World War II soynuts became widely produced and quite popular in America. A photograph of a package of "roasted salted soybeans" appeared in the Soybean Digest of May 1941. By 1942 Butler Foods was making "Soy-Nuts." Large manufacturers included the Borden Soy Processing Co. and Griffith Laboratories in Chicago. In 1943 Payne of the USDA was able to write that "roasted salted soybeans are about as common now as salted peanuts." That year there were ten US firms that made or handled soynuts: four in Illinois, two in California, and one each in Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In 1944 Central Soya in Indiana was making chopped soynuts called Nut-T-Soys and Loeb Products in New York was making Soya Puffs (a ready-to-serve breakfast cereal made from puffed soybeans) and Exploded, Precooked Soybeans. Other companies producing or distributing soynuts in 1944 were Dewey Food Products and Soybean Products Co., both in Chicago; La Choy Food Products in Ohio; Tom Soya Foods in Williamsport, PA; and Vegetable Products Co. in Rochester, NY. In 1945 the Whitson Products Division of the Borden Co., with plants in Chicago and Ottawa (Kansas), began to produce Soyettes on a large scale. The soybeans were simply soaked and dry roasted, then used by the candy and baking industries. Some were salted and sold in bulk to variety stores for use like salted peanuts. In 1948 the main Borden plant was modernized and moved to Waterloo, Iowa, but production stopped several years later. Borden described its operations in the October 1946 and January 1948 issues of Soybean Digest . In 1947 Victory Mills in Toronto, Canada, made that country's first known soynuts. There was very little soynut production during the 1950s and 1960s.

During World War II there were many publications describing soynuts. Hale (1941) gave a home recipe for oil roasted soynuts. Soybean Digest (May 1943) published a page of recipes for "Roasted Soybeans." Lager (1945) gave seven recipes. Cornell University developed soynuts for the New York State Emergency Food Commission. Blumenthal (1947) gave a bulk recipe for oil roasted soynuts, using large-seeded vegetable-type soybeans.

The first scientific study of soynut production was published in 1968 by Badenhop et al. of Cornell University and entitled "Roasting Soybeans as a Processing Technique." It discussed production of both dry roasted and oil roasted soynuts. In 1970 Wilkens and Lin of Cornell published "Volatile Flavor Components of Deep Fat-Fried Soybeans" and in 1971 Badenhop and Hackler published "Protein Quality of Dry Roasted Soybeans," the first nutritional study on soynuts.

1970-1982 . Starting in 1970 there was a new wave of interest in soynuts in America. In that year Malt-O-Meal started to market three flavors of oil roasted soynuts and Edible Soy Products in Hudson, Iowa, started to market dry roasted soynuts--both in a big way (Horn 1972??). Soon other companies followed: General Nutrition Mills and Subama Food Company in 1971, Colgate-Palmolive in 1975, INARI in 1976, and Agra By-Products in 1977. Colgate-Palmolive's product was the only failure. They introduced an oil roasted soynut with the seed coat intact, called Bambinos, sold in five flavors (plain, salted, garlic, onion, and cheese) in chain stores, packaged in 8-ounce cans with reclosable plastic lids. The company spent roughly $500,000 in developing and introducing the product, including $250,000 in TV ads. Only 28,000 cases were sold, with very few repeat sales.

In 1981 Shurtleff published the first study of the American soynut industry, which showed it to be a surprisingly large and vigorous one, comprised of at least 12 manufacturers. They used at least 3,600?? tons of raw (dry) soybeans to produce 2,750 tons (5.5 million) pounds) of soynuts; 60-70% of the total was oil roasted and the rest dry roasted. The largest producers of oil roasted soynuts, in descending order output, were General Nutrition Mills, Subama Food Co., Malt-O-Meal, Agra By-Products, and INARI. The only producer of dry roasted soynuts was Edible Soy Products. The majority of all soynuts was sold to the food industry for use in baked goods, candy, as a salad topping and as a ready-to-eat snack, like roasted peanuts. Flavors included plain (unsalted), salted, seasoned (garlic, onion-garlic, sour-cream onion, barbecue, pizza, cheese, jalapeno, shoyu/tamari, etc.), and sweetened (such as carob- or chocolate-coated). They were sold in small plastic bags like peanuts, in 8-ounce jars, and in bulk.

A number of large food companies had started to use soynuts by 1980. Sunmaid used over a million pounds a year in trail mixes and as a carob coated sweet. McCormick and Celestial Seasonings both used soynuts in mixed salad toppings. Ghirardelli has used them in abundance in a delectable, crunchy, sweet chocolate bar called Soy-Nut. Washington Chocolate Company in Oregon was making carob-coated and chocolate-coated soynuts, and Planters Peanut Co. (since 1975) sold soynuts in vacuum sealed jars. El Molino, Malt-O-Meal, and INARI marketed carob-coated soynuts. A nice story on INARI's history, varied product line, and plans for new products ran in the October 1981 issue of Food Development magazine. In short, by the 1980s, soynuts had clearly made their entrance into the mainstream American food system.

Their main selling points were economy (they sold for about 40% less than peanuts pound for pound and occupied 12-40% more volume), nutrition (soynuts had only 80% as many calories, 46% as much fat, and 61% more protein), acceptability (oil roasted compare favorably with peanuts), and shelf life (8 months versus 2 months).

Research and publication during this period was also active. In 1965 Cargill developed, patented, and licensed a new method, using infrared heat, for making dry roasted soynuts having increased digestibility and palatability, with a "toasted, nut-like flavor that is delicious" ( Soybean Digest 1965). By 1972 the University of Illinois Department of Food Science had developed a method for preparing oil roasted soynuts using a 30-minute blanch of the dehulled cotyledons in a weak (0.25%) solution of baking soda, to give a bland-flavored product. Also in the mid-1970s researchers at Colorado State University had developed a method for roasting dry soybeans in hot sand to give a tasty product with a high protein quality (Ref ??). Recipes for soynuts were given in a number of cookbooks including Yay Soybeans (The Farm 1974) and The Book of Tofu (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1975).


In China there is said?? to be a product resembling soynut butter called huangdou jiang , however nothing is known of its history or present use. Soynut butter is unknown elsewhere in East Asia.

In Europe the earliest known reference to soynut butter was during the 1970s (when??), when Itona Products Ltd. in Wigan, England, began to manufacture a tasty product called Beannoot Butter.

In the United States, soynut butter has a surprisingly long history. The world's earliest known reference to soynut butter was in 1916, when John L. Kellogg (mentioned earlier) was granted the first patent on the product. (How make it??) Piper and Morse in The Soybean (1923) described soynut

butter saying,

Roasted soybeans may be ground into a fine paste and with the addition of a refined oil, as peanut oil, mixed thoroughly through the paste, a sort of butter, resembling peanut butter, may be prepared. This product, if the beans are roasted simply to a light brown color, has much the same appearance as peanut butter and a very agreeable flavor.

In about 1929 T.A. Van Gundy made America's first commercial soynut butter at his La Sierra Industries in southern California. He sold the product through local health food stores. Called Beanut Butter, it was made from oil roasted soynuts that he also made. In 1936 Mildred Lager's House of Better Living Catalog in Los Angeles listed a "Soy Bean Butter (like peanut butter)." Lager (1942a) described two types of soynut butter; toasted and raw. The raw was made from raw soy flour blended with soy oil. (The maker was clearly not aware of the problem of trypsin inhibitors in raw soy flour; see Chapter 7.) Lager also gave lots of soynut butter recipes. An article in the May 1943 issue of Soybean Digest carried a recipe for "Soy Butter" made from oil roasted soynuts with added oil.

In 1967 Pichel and Weiss were granted America's second patent for soynut butter (US Patent 3,346,390). In 1971 Badenhop and Hackler suggested grinding soynuts with oil to make a peanut butter analog. In 1972 Herbert Horn, a student in the University of Illinois Department of Food Science, wrote an excellent master's thesis entitled Quality of Soybean Butter as Determined by Processing Variables . The key step in his process was inactivation of the beany flavor in soybeans by a bicarbonate blanch, which also removed flatulence-causing oligosaccharides. He ground his oil roasted soynuts with 8% oil, plus salt and dextrose.

Horn mentioned that there was a commercial soynut butter on the market in 1972 but he did not mention the name of the manufacturer. Subama Food Company in Iowa started to make soynut butter commercially in 1973; unsalted and made from oil roasted soynuts, it was sold only in bulk (30-pound pails), mostly to local food co-ops.

The heat waves and drought of the summer of 1980 devastated peanut crops across the US. By October a major peanut and peanut butter crisis had surfaced. The US peanut harvest was down by almost 50%, the price of unprocessed peanuts had more than tripled, and the price of peanut butter had roughly doubled. Big food processing companies rushed to develop a low-cost replacement, using soynut butter as a peanut butter extender. Food Engineering (1981) ran two articles on the subject. A leading contender was Archer Daniel Midland's Peanut Spread, which came in two types: a smooth version contained 40% peanuts and 60% NutriBits full fat soy particles that can be roasted with the peanuts before grinding; and a chunky version containing 45% peanuts and 55% NutriBits. ADM did not market the products. They simply developed the prototypes and offered the formulas with their NutriBits to any company wishing to make and market them. It is not known?? if the product was ever commercialized; it could have sold for $0.45 per pound less than peanut butter, which would make it competitive even in times of normal peanut prices. Kraft also announced its readiness to release a similar product if the 1981 peanut crop was poor. In 1981 INARI began testing two soynut butters; a natural and a commercial. Also in 1981 Shurtleff gave a review of soynut butter in the US, its history, and its future prospects.

To counter astronomical peanut butter prices some people began making soynut butter at home. A typical recipe called for soaking 1 cup soybeans in water for 5 hours, draining for 1 hour, then deep frying to make oil roasted soynuts. These were then mixed with 2 tablespoons oil (ideally peanut oil) and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and ground in a hand mill or Champion-type juicer.

Hopefully the next time there is a peanut shortage, soyfoods companies will be ready to take advantage of the golden opportunity to put a tasty, low-priced soynut butter on the market and to once again demonstrate the soybean's amazing versatility.

As of 1981 the world's best selling soynut butter was probably that produced by Itona products Ltd. in Wigan, England. Called Beannoot Butter and sold as a dry mix in a plastic bag, this product consists of roasted soy flour, malt extract (a natural sweetener), vegetable oil, and salt. To serve, the product is mixed with a smaller amount of water then used like peanut butter.