History of Whole Dry Soybeans, Used as Beans, or Ground, Mashed or Flaked (240 BCE to 2013)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-57-0

Publication Date: 2013 July 2

Number of References in Bibliography: 2,337

Earliest Reference: 240 BCE

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What are whole dry soybeans? Whole dry soybeans are the source of all of the other soyfoods – except green vegetable soybeans. They are soybeans that have come to maturity and dried on the plants in the fields, prior to harvest. They can be classified according to the color of their seed coat as yellow, black, green or white; according to the number of days to maturity as early, mid-season, or late; according to the seed size as small, medium, or large; and as vegetable-type soybeans (which have larger seeds, a mild or slightly nutty flavor, and which cook more easily) and field-type soybeans (which generally have a slightly more "beany" flavor and do not cook as easily). Yellow soybeans, by far the most common type (more than 98% of the total) and the only type that is traded, have a straw-yellow seed coat. Regardless of the seed coat color, most soybeans have yellow cotyledons (meats), however some soybeans with green or black seed coats have light-green dry cotyledons. Some yellow soybeans have a black hilum – the "eye" or seed scar.

      In this book we will only discuss whole dry soybeans that are soaked, boiled, baked or flaked, and served as whole beans (or mashed or ground) in a non-dry form, or used medicinally or for feed. Whole dry soybeans that are dry roasted or deep-fried to make soynuts or germinated to make sprouts are the subject of other history books in this series.
      There are three good reasons that the people of East Asia prefer not to eat whole soybeans as beans: (1) Because of their high protein and low starch content, soybeans require much more time (and fuel) to cook than most other beans. (2) Because the complex sugars (oligosaccharides) they contain make them more difficult to digest since these sugars are not broken down (hydrolyzed) by human digestive enzymes. They pass into the colon, where they are metabolized by anaerobic bacteria, leading to intestinal gas or flatulence. These oligosaccharides are removed in the processing of most other soyfoods. (3) When soybeans are soaked and cooked like regular beans, if the seed coat of any intact beans is damaged, the enzyme lipoxidase they contain can easily come in contact with the polyunsaturated oils they also contain. This leads to oxidation of the oils causing a “beany flavor.” However dropping whole dry soybeans into boiling water inactivates the lipoxidase enzyme and avoids creation of any beany flavor.
Whole SoybeansEast and West: In the West, we usually serve beans as beans – for example navy beans, kidney beans, pinto beans or frijoles. However in East Asia, soybeans are rarely served in the form of beans – so that they look like whole beans. Rather, they are transformed into a host of other foods that bear little resemblance to the original beans. These include both fermented and non fermented soyfoods – ranging from soy sauce and miso to tofu and soymilk – even though the extra processing raises their price.
      In Japan, whole soybeans are typically served only once a year – as nimame during the New Year’s festivities. In China, whole soybeans are used more as medicine than as food – in the form of black soybeans. One almost never sees a recipe in a Chinese (or a Korean or Indonesian) cookbook calling for whole soybeans to be served as beans.
      In the West, several types of delicious canned whole soybeans are now widely available. Our favorite is Organic Black Soy Beans from Eden Foods.
Brief chronology of whole dry soybeans used as beans.
240 BCE – The Xunzi [The Book of Master Xun], Chapter 10, states: The sage Mozi (W.-G. Mo-tzu) may have his gown and belt, but he will only be able to eat soybean congee (chuoshu, literally "suck soybeans") and drink water (yinshui). What worth is left to life? (Translated by H.T. Huang, PhD, Sept. 2001).
      Dr. Huang adds: "Suck soybeans" means consuming soybeans that have been cooked with excess water for a long time until very soft like congee. Chuo is unusual among Chinese food words. It describes a way of consuming that is half way between eating and drinking. The "soybean appears to have been the only grain that was prepared in such a manner that it could be sipped or sucked."
220 BCE – The Zhanguoce [Records of the Warring States Period], Chapter 8 states: The people eat mostly whole dry soybeans cooked into granules like cereal grains (doufan) and soybean leaves in a soup (huogeng) (Translated by H.T. Huang, PhD, Aug. 2001).
      Dr. Huang adds: In the Chinese classics, fan means "cooked grain," whereas today it refers specifically to "cooked rice." To cook whole soybeans like cereal grains (doufan) probably meant that each bean was separate – unlike congee. This is the earliest document seen that mentions doufan.
1061 CE – The Tu Jing Bencao [Illustrated Pharmacopoeia, or Pharmaceutical Natural History] states: The Da dou, or Soy bean, has two varieties, white and black. These black beans are used medicinally, but the white variety is not.
1484 – The Jurin-in Naifu Ki [Daily Record of Jurin-in (name of a court nobleman)] in Japan, in the entry for 12 May 1484, mentions that they ate nimame (sweet simmered black soybeans). Although black soybeans are not specifically mentioned, the dish has always been made from black soybeans. Nimame is still a popular New Year's dish in Japan.
1779 – The Encyclopedia Britannica (Great Britain), in the entry for Dolichos, has a long section on the soybean which states: “2. The soja is a native of Japan, where it is termed daidsu; and, from its excellence, mame; that is, 'the legumen or pod,' by way of eminence. It grows with an erect, slender, and hairy stalk… and succeeded by bristly hanging pods resembling those of the yellow lupine, which commonly contains two, sometimes three, large white seeds. There is a variety of this kind with a small black fruit, which is used in medicine. Kempfer [Kaempfer] affirms that the seeds of this when pounded and taken inwardly, give relief in the asthma."
      This is the earliest English-language document seen which mentions whole soybeans, or which mentions black soybeans, or which states that black soybeans are used in medicine – apparently in Japan.
1790 – Loureiro, in Flora Cochinensis [The Flora of Cochin China] writes: Uses: These seeds, having been boiled or lightly toasted, are quite acceptable to both the stomach and the palate.
1853 Feb. 12 – An article titled “The Japan Pea” in Moore’s Rural New Yorker comments: “The seeds are good to eat and, when young, very delicate. On soaking the round seeds for an hour in moderately hot water, they take exactly the form and appearance of the common white bean, become quite tender, and have a pure and delicious nutty and oily flavor.”
      “Japan Pea” was an early name for the soybean. This is the earliest English-language document seen published in the USA, which states that whole soybeans are good to eat.
1856 June – In a letter to the editor of the Southern Cultivator titled “The Japan Pea,” the unnamed writer states: “They are very excellent for the table even when a year old, if prepared as follows: – Soak in water over night, and boil next day 3 or 4 hours; serve up with butter, or place them in the oven, with a few slices of bacon, until slightly browned, like baked beans.”
1876 July – The Bulletin de la Societé d’Acclimatation prints a letter from the Secretary of the Society for Horticulture near Etampes, France. He writes: This grain leaves nothing to be desired. As for quality, it is perfect. In order to judge it well, we have cooked it in the dry state and tasted it seasoned only with a little salt. Prepared in this way it tastes something like a haricot [green bean], lentil, or pea. It is very tender and doubles exactly in volume when cooked in excess water. It is easily digested. This legume must be boiled for a long time before it becomes tender.
1878 – In his classic Die Sojabohne [The Soybean] (p. 107), Friedrich Haberlandt (Professor at the Imperial Royal School of Agriculture, Vienna) cracks whole soybeans into grits, then experiments with food uses. He writes: I had soy grits of that kind added to various potato dishes, for example mashed potatoes and rice. I mixed soy grits with wheat grits, cooked with milk or water, and I had soy grits added to mashed potatoes to make a dish resembling Polenta. This might be called Sojenta. My family also experimented with adding soy meal to wheat flour to make bread, with and without the addition of milk, and in all cases we were highly pleased with the results. This opinion about the taste of soy was shared by others, who shared in the tasting.
1880 Sept. – August Paillieux, writing about the soybean in the Bulletin de la Societe d'Acclimatation (p. 575) is the first to recommend the use of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) when soaking or cooking whole soybeans.
1894 March 1 – An article titled “Some Leguminous Crops and Their Economic Value,” by McCarthy and Emery, published in North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin No. 98 contains an early recipe for cooking and serving whole soybeans: “The following directions [recipe] for cooking the 'soy' pea are given by Dr. J. H. Mills, of the Baptist Orphanage at Thomasville, N.C. [North Carolina]: Soak the peas till the skins come off. Then stir the peas in the water until the skins rise to the surface and skim them off. Boil the peas with bacon until soft. Add pepper and butter to suit and serve hot. If the peas are green the preliminary soaking may be omitted. This makes a most palatable dish, well liked by children.”
1916 – World War I catapults the soybean into prominence as Herbert Hoover leads a national effort to conserve food and to find alternatives to or extenders for meat and dairy products, which can then be sent to our allies (and after April 1917 our troops) in Europe. On July 2 in the Chicago Daily Tribune the Dyer Packing Co. of Vincennes, Indiana, runs a large ad titled “Better Beans at Lower Cost” – the first of many large ads. The company is now canning Dyer’s Pork and Beans with Tomato Sauce; the beans are a mixture of soja and navy beans.
      Whole soybeans are also being canned in France for the French army (Balland, Feb. 1917).
1917 May 19 – An article titled “Soybeans for Human Food," by Kay B. Park, published in Ohio Farmer is the first to recommend that soybeans not be cooked in the water in which they are soaked. “One result of the work is that an exceedingly simple household method has been found by which soybeans can be made as palatable as navy beans. The process consists merely in soaking the beans overnight in a large excess of hot water or until the bad flavor has disappeared, which can be determined by tasting. The water should be poured off and the beans rinsed. When the strong flavor has been removed the beans can be cooked like navy beans."
1917 Sept. – The term “soy-bean pulp” is first used in the popular Good Housekeeping magazine in an article titled “Soy: The Coming Bean,” by William Leavitt Stoddard. Eight soy recipes are given; six call for whole “soy beans” and two for “soy-bean meal” – full-fat soy flour. The term soy-bean pulp probably refers to whole soybeans that have been baked then ground or mashed to a pulp.
      The term is next used (very clearly) on 2 Jan. 1918 in several recipes in the Boston Daily Globe.
1918 Feb. – Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, in an article titled “The Soy Bean” published in Good Health magazine, describes an ingenious way to pressure cook soybeans without using a pressure cooker and with no concern about stirring or burning.
1918 Feb. – The term “whole soy-beans” first appears in the Journal of Home Economics (p. 64-70).
1918 July 30 – The Boston Daily Globe writes: “Odd as it may seem, and incredible as it may appear, the Boston baked bean of today is almost invariably the soya bean, which is imported from China and grown on Southern estates, from Virginia to the Mississippi,…”
1918 – During the season of 1916 about 100,000 bushels of American-grown soy beans were packed as baked beans by several canning companies in the Central and Eastern States" (W.J. Morse, Yearbook of the USDA).
1921 April 27 – The term “canned soybeans” is first used by J.C. Hackleman of the University of Illinois, in a letter to W.J. Morse.
1926 – Hain Health Foods (Los Angeles, California) begins selling “Canned Soy Beans.”
1929 Nov. – La Sierra Industries (Arlington, California) starts selling “La Sierra Soy Beans” (Canned; Unseasoned Green-Seeded Type, or With Tomato Sauce) and “La Sierra Soy Cereal” – a toasted and shredded all-soy product. The latter was the company’s best-seller in the early 1930s.
1929-1930 – During their 2-year expedition to East Asia, Dorsett and Morse (USDA agricultural explorers) find many commercial products in Japan (Tokyo) containing whole soybeans – many of them treats or sweets for children. In Korea they find no food products but several uses of cooked whole soybeans as feed (as for an ox). In China they find no uses for food or feed.
1933 – California Food Kitchens (Los Angeles, California) launches a line of whole soybean products – the earliest such products for which we have an advertisement. These include Gud Fud Soya Beans, Soya Loaf, Soya Rice Lunch, Soya Sandwich Spread, etc.
1934 June – La Sierra Industries launches La Sierra Soy Breakfast Food (Ready to Serve Cereal). The company advertised it in Health magazine as “Perfect Protein, High Alkaline Ash, Low Starch.”
1941-1945 – During World War II, soybeans again return to prominence just as they did during World War I.
1945 – The Kellogg Co., famous maker of breakfast cereals (Battle Creek, Michigan), introduces Kellogg’s Corn Soya Shreds, and advertises them widely – including two full-page color ads in Life magazine. They were made from corn and “soya flakes.”
1960 – The influential book Zen Macrobiotics, by George Ohsawa, contains many recipes for soybeans (including black soybeans) served as beans, often with Japanese seasonings – such as soy sauce or miso.
      This is the earliest macrobiotic document seen that gives a recipe for whole soybeans served as beans.
1965 – In his work “Soybean Utilization in Japan,” William Brandemuhl has a section on Soybean tsukudani and nimame. He says a very large maker might use 300-350 kilograms of soybeans per day for soybean tsukudani.
      This is the earliest document seen that contains the term “Soybean tsukudani.”
1971 – Arrowhead Mills (Hereford, Deaf Smith County, Texas) uses a unique process that involves infrared heat to make Soybean Flakes. This type of heat plasticizes the soybeans so that they become cohesive flakes rather than grits and flour.
1992 – In The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea, Robert Buswell, Jr. states: "Bean products constitute one of the largest components of the monastic diet during all seasons… Cooked black [soy] beans, seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, and white sesame, are served at least once a day.”
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Click here to download the full text to open and read book History of Whole Dry Soybeans, Used as Beans, or Ground, Mashed or Flaked (240 BCE to 2013)