History of Whole Dry Soybeans - Page 2

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A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and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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Americans have never eaten a large amount of beans. Moreover, per capita consumption of all types of beans (including soybeans), peas, and nuts has stayed remarkably constant from 1910 to the present. It was 16.3 lb in 1910, dropping to an all-time low of 14.3 lb in 1920, and rising to an all-time high of 20.5 lb in 1945, reaching 15.8 lb in 1970, and rising to 17.6 lb in 1973. The most popular US edible dry beans (not including soy) in 1974 were navy beans (34% of total), pinto beans (27%), great northern beans (9%), and red kidney beans (7%). In 1974 some 1,085,400 tonnes (metric tons) of these were produced, or about 11.4 lb per person.

In addition, beans have developed the reputation of a lower-class, poor man's food, burdened by epithets such as "You won't amount to a hill of beans," or "You're full of beans," or "You don't know from beans." Yet Americans continue to enjoy beans in burritos, enchiladas, Boston Baked Beans, pork and beans, and the like. The use of whole dry soybeans is best seen against this cultural background.

Early Developments (1855-1899) . The earliest known reference to whole dry soybeans being used as food in the US was in 1855, when a man with initials T.V.P. of Mount Carmel, Ohio wrote: "When eaten a few times they are pleasant enough, but have very little flavor--better when mixed with other beans. Before cooking they must be soaked at least 24 hours."

In 1857 an editorial in the American Agriculturalist said of soybeans:

We first saw them cooked upon the table of a friend, and were not especially pleased with the flavor . . . Others are better pleased with them. Mr. Thos. R. Joynes, Jr., of Accomac, Va. writes . . . As for the eating qualities, I can only say, that I have just risen from the table at which I made my first trial of them, and I want nothing better. They make a rich and most excellent dish--inferior to no bean or pea I have ever seen.

In another editorial on soybeans, the American Agriculturalist reported in 1874 that L.L. Osment of Cleveland, Tennessee had said they were "unsurpassed for table use." A Mr. Johnson found them to be "not desirable for table use." A man from Boston wrote, "They may be delicious to the celestial palate, but my wife found them hard to cook and I found hard to eat--never getting soft no matter how long they were boiled." The editors concluded: "Thus far we think the weight of evidence is against their utility as a table vegetable."

In 1894 Bulletin 98 of the North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station contained and recommended the first US recipe for cooking soybeans: "Soak the beans until the skins come off and stir in water until the skins rise to the surface and then remove them. Boil the beans with bacon until soft, season with pepper, salt, and butter, and serve hot." In 1899 Blasedale visited Chinese markets in San Francisco and described yellow and black soybeans for food use.

1900-1929 . The first widespread serious interest in whole dry soybeans in the US developed during World War I. Pioneering research and development work was done by the USDA Office of Home Economics, the Home Economics departments of many colleges, some schools of cookery, and a few commercial canneries. In 1916 roughly 100,000 bushels of American grown soybeans were packed as baked beans (sometimes pork and beans) by several canning companies in the central and eastern US. At that time navy and other baking beans were very high priced. The US grown beans were considered superior in flavor to those grown in Manchuria. From 1916 dry soybeans were placed on sale in most large US cities (sometimes under the name of "togo beans") and used in the same manner as navy beans. Some consumers mixed soy and navy beans (2:1) for baking (Morse 1918a; Piper and Morse 1923).

The first report of the USDA work by Morse in 1915 noted that dried soybeans could be used like field or navy beans in baking or soups, but that they required somewhat longer soaking and cooking. In numerous issues of the USDA Weekly News Letter starting in April 1917 and continuing through 1918, dry soybeans were praised as a food and considered "meat savers." They also gave recipes for dry soybeans including Baked Soy Beans (with molasses), Boiled or Baked Soy Beans (with tomatoes, onions, or pimiento), Soy-Bean Loaf with Creole Sauce, Soy beans and Rice, Cream of Soy Bean Soup, and Soy-Bean Croquettes.

Even more important, by about 1918 the USDA had tested the cooking qualities of some 500-800 soybean varieties to find ones that cooked more quickly and had good flavor. The Hahto and Easycook, both vegetable types, were found to excel. The Easycook, especially, was found to cook fully as soft as the navy bean in less time (1-2 hours) after a 12-hour soak. Two reasons were found for this quick cooking ability. First, the Easycook was shown to have unusually great permeability to water due to the very great looseness in the cells comprising the outer or palisade layer of the bean. Second, both the Easycook and Hahto were found to contain more starch than most soybeans. Despite the superiority of the vegetable-type soybeans Hahto and Easycook, they were not widely grown nor widely sold. Rather the Ito San, a field-type soybean, was the most widely used for food (Willaman 1922; Piper and Morse 1923). In addition, lighter colored soybean varieties, yellow and green, were found to have the best flavor; soybeans with a dark seed coat had a typically stronger, less pleasant taste. To reduce even the light colored beans' characteristically strong flavor, numerous researchers recommended soaking the beans overnight in excess (hot) water, changing the water one to three times, then cooking in fresh water. At Universities, research on cooking techniques and recipe development was done by Pearl MacDonald (1917) at the Pennsylvania Agricultural Experiment Station, Williams and Park (1917) at the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station, and Wenona Windsor (1918) at the University of Missouri. Various popular writers (such as Dacy 1917) helped promote the use of soybeans as navy bean substitutes among the general public.

As mentioned earlier, the use of baking soda to help tenderize soybeans during cooking and to shorten the cooking time was first recommended in Europe by Paillieux in 1880. The technique had been used in the US as early as 1902 with navy beans. It was first recommended for soybeans in the US by Williams and Park (1917), and thereafter by many researchers (Itano 1918; Morse 1918a, etc.). Windsor (1918) specifically advised against its use since it was believed to destroy some of the soybean's vitamins. Starting in the early 1970s, the baking soda technique would be revived and widely promoted by food scientists at the University of Illinois.

The world's first pressure cooking of soybeans for home use began in the US, where the pressure cooker had been invented in 1874 and where the first patents were granted in 1902. In 1920 John Harvey Kellogg first recommended a semi-pressure-cooking technique for soybeans by boiling the beans in a small crock with a self-sealing lid. Piper and Morse (1923) first recommended the use of a regular pressure cooker. Pressure cookers did not come into general use until 1935. In 1945 Bowman and co-workers at the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station found that pressure cooked soybeans had a lighter color and more desirable texture than those cooked in a saucepan and that all judges expressed a preference for those cooked under pressure.

During the 1920s, Seventh-day Adventists played a leading role in introducing whole dry soybeans to America, especially as commercial products. Sometime between 1918 and 1921, T.A. Van Gundy in California developed and introduced a unique product called Smoein (short for "smoked protein"), made by smoking soaked soybeans on perforated flats over a hickory fire, then grinding them to a powder, which was sold in shakers and had a flavor resembling that of smoked fish or bacon. Then by late 1929 Van Gundy's La Sierra Foods was canning green-seeded soybeans, either unseasoned or with tomato sauce. The success of Van Gundy's innovations invited competition. In about 1921, nearby Loma Linda Foods developed their first soyfood, Smokene, as an imitation of Smoein. In late 1929 Hain (sp??) Foods, also nearby, introduced canned soybeans and undersold Van Gundy. In 1922 Madison Foods introduced plain canned soybeans and a soy-based meat analog Soy Bean Meat.

In The Soybean (1923) Piper and Morse gave the most extensive information to date on whole soybeans, summarizing much of the work done between 1917 and 1923. For typical (non-vegetable-type) soybeans, they recommended soaking 2 cups soybeans for 12 hours, drain, adding fresh water plus 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and simmering for about 2 hours. A pressure cooker, when available, was considered even better for cooking. The authors gave 26 very creative recipes for using either whole soybeans or cooked soybean puree, made by putting cooked dry soybeans through a meat grinder, a concept that had apparently never been developed in East Asia, where the soybeans were usually ground after soaking but before cooking. Piper and Morse's recipes included casseroles, soups, croquettes, salads, cookies, muffins, puddings, souffles, a chili-con-carne, and even a soybean-based pie crust.

1930-1959 . There was a growth of interest in whole dry soybeans during the 1930s and 1940s, for various reasons: the growing popularity of good-tasting, quick-cooking vegetable-type soybeans; the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s; the growth of research and new commercial products; the rise of the health food industry.

For example, in 1936 The House of Better Living, Mildred Lager's health-food store in Los Angeles, carried the following soybean products: Loma Linda Soy Beans (plain or with Proteena), La Sierra Soy Beans (plain or with tomato sauce), Imported Whole Soybeans, Soy Bean Loaf (meat substitute), Soy Bean Bologna, Soy Bean Spread, Loma Linda Soy Mince Sandwich Spread, plus various breads, crackers, and cookies, apparently made with mashed, cooked soybeans. By early 1938 the store and its catalog also carried Cracked Soy Beans (quick-cooking), Soya Bean Honey Spread, Soy Bean Ravioli, Bill Baker's 100% Soy Fruit Slices, Dr. Fearn's Soya-Date Breakfast Food, Soya Cereal, and Cereal for Diabetics, and Loma Linda Soy Bean Wafers. Also by 1936 J.H. Kellogg's Battle Creek Foods was making a Canned Wonder Soy Beans (Baked), and by 1940 a Soy Spread. The fact that the word "Soy" was featured so prominently in the product names seems to indicate that it had a good image.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, extensive tests on vegetable-type mature dry soybeans were done by Woodruff and Klass (1938) at the University of Illinois Department of Home Economics. Judges considered at least six of the whole dry beans to have a superior flavor. In preparing the beans, they were soaked overnight, cooked in fresh, lightly salted water for only 75 minutes, then served. The authors noted that

Most dry soybeans, excepting some of the black field types, swell and cook to a tender condition even more readily than do other kinds of beans. People have been misled into thinking that this is not so by the fact that when the soybean has reached its maximum degree of softness it is rather nutlike in texture and not `mushy' like navy beans.

We feel that the fact that many recipes from the 1920s to the 1940s called for cooking all soybean varieties only 1-2 hours, instead of the 5-6 hours required to make them tender, was an important factor in the relatively slow acceptance of soybeans in home kitchens. On this subject Mildred Lager, who knew soyfoods as well as anyone in her time, commented in 1945: "Saying that soybeans can be cooked like other beans will only disillusion the housewife and spoil the reputation of an excellent food." Lager recommended pressure cooking the soaked soybeans in lightly salted water for 45 minutes or simmering for "several hours until tender." Neither Woodruff and Klass, nor Lager apparently realized that adding salt to the cooking water increases the required cooking time.

The advent of World War II saw a great expansion of interest in whole soybeans and a proliferation of commercial canned products by many of the companies mentioned in the previous chapter that also canned fresh green soybeans. By 1940 Dr. Harry Miller of Ohio was producing canned vegetable-type Giant Soya Beans and Soya Beans in Tomato Sauce. In 1941 Worthington Foods introduced canned soybeans (plain or with tomato sauce) and a soy-based Sandwich Spread. Loma Linda Foods was another maker manufacturer of canned soybeans and soy sandwich spread. By 1943 some 2.4 million cans of cooked, whole dry soybeans were being marketed in the US, only one-fifth the amount of fresh green soybeans sold canned at that time (Gold 1943). The same year 10,000 one-pound cans of dry vegetable-type soybeans were sold throughout South Carolina alone (Morse 1943a). From about 1946-1956 Fox Valley Canning and Fairmont Canning in Minnesota both canned mature whole soybeans. One problem with the dry beans not found with green soybeans harvested early enough was that the cooking liquid from the dry beans gelled after canning.

During the late 1930s and the 1940s recipes for dry soybeans were found in most of the many publications on soyfoods. The USDA's popular booklet Soybeans for the Table (Whiteman and Keyt 1938) contained recipes for a casserole, chile con carne, and souffle, and numerous suggestions for using the cooked soybeans puree were given. Mildred Lager's The Useful Soybean (1945) gave ten recipes, many of them containing salt pork.

Interest in cooking with whole soybeans plunged dramatically after World War II and stayed low throughout the 1950s. Only Chen (1956) mentioned them. He gave about 25 recipes including the first known recipe for Soyburgers, which contained MSG (monosodium glutamate) together with a long pitch for what a wonderful food additive it was.

1960-1982 . The 1960s saw a rebirth of interest in whole soybeans, which increased during the 1970s and early 1980s. Prime forces were the new interest in natural foods and vegetarian diets, plus the expanded commitment to soyfoods research, especially at three centers: Cornell University, the USDA Northern Regional Research Center at Peoria, Illinois, and the University of Illinois.

The first?? investigations of the causes of flatulence in soybeans was done by Murphy in 1963. Then in 1966 Steggerda (at Illinois) and Richards ?? and Rackis (at Peoria) showed that the flatulence caused by eating whole soybeans is caused primarily by oligosaccharides (complex, water-soluble carbohydrates such as raffinose and stachyose), which enzymes in our stomach are unable to digest so that they are later acted upon by bacteria in the lower intestine to produce flatulence (intestinal gas). Kon (1972, 1976 Refs??; at Illinois) and others showed that flatulence can be reduced by soaking the beans well in one or more changes of excess water, and cooking in plenty of fresh water (10 times the weight of the beans). This will lead to a 59% reduction in oligosaccharides, with only a 2.6% loss of protein. Adding 0.5% baking soda to the cook water to shorten the cooking time, increases oligosaccharide removal slightly but triples protein loss to 6.8%. In either case, the slight loss of protein and minerals is more than compensated for by the increase in digestibility and social comfort.

At Cornell, Hand, Steinkraus, and Gage (1964) developed a new food product consisting of dehulled, precooked, dehydrated soybean cotyledons mixed with precooked sweet corn (50:50 mixture) or rice (75:25 mixture), both of which were then dehydrated. This new convenience food would be ready to serve after only 30 minutes additional boiling in lightly seasoned water. Seasoning with spice mixtures or curry powder was recommended. The food and its protein complementarity were felt to be valuable for Third World countries. In 1969 Mattick and Hand at Cornell made the important discovery that most of the so-called beany flavor in soybeans was not inherent in the beans themselves but was produced by the enzyme lipoxygenase when the split beans came in contact with water. Lipoxygenase could be inactivated and most of the beany flavor removed by either dropping unsoaked soybeans directly into boiling water or by removing any cracked or split beans prior to soaking, then carefully dropping the soaked beans into boiling water.

By the early 1970s the University of Illinois Department of Food Science had become the world's leading center of research on food uses of whole dry soybeans. The beginning of this interest can be traced back to 1969, when Professor Alvin Nelson visited India to work on soyfoods development at G.B. Pant University in Pant Nagar, Uttar, Pradesh. Seeing the rapid growth of soybean acreage in India, he recognized the great potential of soybeans for India and the great need to develop simple, low-technology methods for incorporating these soybeans into widely used traditional foods and recipes. The key considerations which led to what has come to be called the University of Illinois Concept for Whole Soybean Processing were (1) reducing cooking (boiling) time by use of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), (2) using a boiling water blanch to reduce or eliminate off-flavors by inactivating lipoxygenase enzymes, and to reduce flatulence-causing oligosaccharides, which dissolve in the blanch water, (3) inactivating trypsin inhibitors by adequate boiling, and (4) in some cases dehulling to reduce fiber content and cooking time.

In 1971 in the Soybean Digest , Nelson, Steinberg, and Wei published the first expression of the evolving new concept entitled "Food Products from Whole Soybeans." Instructions were given for a canned soybeans-and-ckicken product and a drum-dried soybean and banana (or apple sauce) weaning food. From 1971 to 1973 Nelson worked at G.B. Pant University as Adviser in Soyabean Processing Technology, where he and co-workers Spata and Singh developed a soybean dal (precooked dry dehulled soybeans) which could be prepared on a home, village, or commercial level to replace lower yielding, more expensive, less nutritious traditional Indian dals (Spata 1974; Spata, Nelson and Singh 1974). By 1974 the Illinois whole-soybean concept had expanded to include drum-dried flakes made from whole soybeans and either rice, corn, brown sugar-and-peanuts, or bananas; canned and home cooked soybeans in salads or with pork; spreads, dips, nut butters; and dairylike products including soymilk, soy ice cream, and soy yogurt. The basic method for cooking whole soybeans involved dehulling the beans, removing the hulls, dropping the cotyledons into 10 times their weight of boiling water containing 0.5% baking soda (NaHCO3??), parboiling for 45-60 minutes, draining and serving. An overnight soak in the baking soda solution, the recommended treatment, would reduce the cooking time to 20-30 minutes. Baking soda also has the advantage of softening hard water.

As noted earlier, the baking soda blanch technique for soybeans had been developed as early as 1880 in France, but the Illinois food scientists did much to revive and popularize its use. They claimed that "Taste panelists detected no significant difference in flavor or off-flavor as a result of the use of bicarbonates." However a study by Perry et al. (1976) from Illinois found problems with the baking soda technique. Soaking and boiling the soybeans in water containing more than 0.2% baking soda was reported to cause a reduction in thiamine content, a darkening in bean color, a mealy texture, and an alkaline or "soapy" flavor. Using the standard 0.5% baking soda reduced the soybean thiamine content by 8-9%, not much. More important, the best scores on flavor, absence of off-flavor, texture, color, and appearance, were generally obtained when no baking soda was used, or, in one case, were only 0.07% was used.

In November 1976 the food science department prepared eleven brief, simply written circulars describing their methods for using whole soybeans directly for food; five were for home and village scale, while six required middle level technology. By 1977 the group had developed drum-dried cereal-soy weaning or breakfast foods, in which cooked whole soybeans were ground to a slurry, mixed with corn or rice flour, then drum dried. The Illinois whole-bean concept was presented by Nelson and Ferrier at various important international conference sponsored by INTSOY, and the techniques were analyzed and refined by numerous graduate students doing dissertations. A good summary of the research was presented in Whole Soybean Foods for Home and Village Use by Nelson, Steinberg, and Wei (1978). In 1981 new work was done in developing bite-sized Soy-Banana Bars resembling "Butterfinger" candy bars. The bars, pressed in a mold and containing only 6% moisture, offered long shelf life, concentrated nutritive value, low cost, and good flavor (Rodda and Wei 1981).

Other researchers also studied whole dry soybeans. For example, Bates et al. (1977) compared the protein quality of cooked whole dry soybeans, fresh green soybeans, and soy sprouts. The PER (Protein Efficiency Ratio) values, adjusted for casein = 2.5, were 2.11, 2.05, and 2.02 respectively. Thus whole dry soybeans had 84% of the PER value of casein.

Commercial products based on whole soybeans became increasingly available after 1960. In 1965 Cargill patented and licensed a process for cooking dry soybeans with infrared heat to give an improved, toasted "nut-like" flavor and enhanced digestibility ( Soybean Digest , April 1965). In about 1972 Arrowhead Mills of Texas introduced a related product, Soy Flakes, cooked by the Micronizing process, developed by Chardo Pierce of Pierce Micronizing, Memphis, Tennessee. The whole dry soybeans were partially precooked with infrared heat for about 30 seconds at 77-115*C (170-240*F), then immediately run between two rollers to produce corrugated flakes, which take only 60-90 minutes to finish cooking and are reported to have a storage life of several years without rancidification. The flakes were also used in Arrowhead Crunch Granola.

Starting in the mid-1960s, yellow soybeans (often organically grown) came to be sold in bulk at most natural food stores and in 1-lb packages at most health food stores, Oriental food stores, and a few supermarkets. These were mostly of the field-rather than vegetable-type since the latter, available from a few distributors such as Strayers Seed Farms, El Molino Mills, or New Life Foods, were 12-18% more expensive and, more important, the general knowledge of their superior quality that existed in the 1940s had largely been lost from the culture. Farm Foods of Tennessee sold a fairly widely distributed 3-lb bag of field-type soybeans. Black soybeans were sold in 1-lb bags at most Japanese and Chinese food stores at about three times the price of yellow soybeans. One Michigan farm grew 8 acres of black soybeans and in the flyer advertising them remarked that they seemed sweeter tasting and easier to digest than yellow soybeans. Loma Linda marketed two products which were widely available: Soybeans Boston Style (introduced by 1961) and Green Soybeans (not fresh green but dry green), both canned at their Mt. Vernon, Ohio plant.

In 1980 Hain Pure Food Co. in Los Angeles introduced two delectable products made from whole soybeans and sold in attractive small flip-top cans: Natural Jalapeno Bean Dip and Natural Onion Bean Dip. After January 1981 both were widely publicized in full page ads in leading natural food magazines. Tysons soy spread, sold in small plastic tubs, was also popular in California.

Most of the great many books on vegetarian cookery, natural foods, and soyfoods were published during the 1960s and 1970s contained creative and tasty recipes for whole soybeans. Most important among these (listed in chronological order) were The Soybean Cookbook (Jones 1963, a new edition of Lager's The Useful Soybean ), Diet for a Small Planet (Lappé 1971), The Proteins-for-Pennies Cookbook (Woods 1974), The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook (Farm 1975, Hagler 1978), The Book of Tofu (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1975), Laurel's Kitchen (Robertson et al. 1976), and The Vegetarian Feast (Shulman 1979). The Book of Tofu contained the first recipes for preparing Japan's four basic whole soybean dishes (described at Japan, earlier), and the first information on fresh soy puree ( go ) and its use in Japan and the West. Most of the authors of the above cookbooks realized that thorough cooking of whole soybeans was essential for good flavor and digestibility: for best results they should be pressure cooked at 15 pounds pressure for 25-40 minutes or at 10 pounds for 50-60 minutes (then the pressure allowed to come down naturally), or they should be soaked overnight then boiled in water at atmospheric pressure for 4-6 hours.

It is to be hoped that, as use of whole dry soybeans grows, good tasting and quick-cooking vegetable-type varieties will be identified (as they were during the 1920s and 1930s) and popularized; recent work in this area done by Rodale Press, as described in the previous chapter, holds great promise.


In part because of the work by the Department of Food Science and INTSOY at the University of Illinois, there has been a growing interest in using whole soybeans in Third World countries, especially since the two main problems of long cooking time and strong or beany flavor have now been largely resolved. With emphasis on home and village production, the Illinois food scientists developed a soybean dal (dehulled, split soybeans) for India, as mentioned above. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Israeli soyfoods pioneer, Eliahu Navot, did creative work in adapting whole soybeans to Jewish and Near Eastern cookery, as in soy felafels, where soybeans replace part or all of the garbanzos in the little deep-fried balls, so popular in pita pocket bread topped with Hummus, a garbanzo-sesame sauce. In Morocco soybeans have long been used in an indigenous soup called Baisar, which also contains split peas. Pontecorvo (1976) in "Soybean Foods for Rural Mexico" ground whole cooked beans to make atole (a heavy milk) and a paste. In Sri Lanka participants at the Village Level Training Center were taught to use whole soybeans in traditional dishes. And in Taiwan, Menegay (1977) of the the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center published a "Vegetable Preparation Manual" with 15 excellent recipes using whole soybeans in main and side dishes, soups, salads, desserts, and snacks.


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