History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in France (1665-2015)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-73-0

Publication Date: 2015 April 17

Number of References in Bibliography: 3405

Earliest Reference: 1665

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Brief Chronology/Timeline of Soy in France.
France was the first nation in the Western world to take a serious interest in soybeans and soyfoods. It led the way prior to World War I in pioneering their introduction to Europe.
1665 – Soy is first mentioned in French in a French translation of a book by John Nieuhof originally written in Dutch. The word Taufoe [tofu] appears in a list of foods (Nieuhof 1665).
1697 – Soybeans are first mentioned in French by Louis D. Le Comte. In his new memoirs on the present state of China he says that these black and yellow peas are used in place of wheat to feed horses.
1765 – Denis Diderot, in the world’s first great encyclopedia (Encyclopédie), has a long section on soy [sauce].
1779 – Soybeans are first cultivated in France at the Museum of Natural History (Jardin du Roi, Jardin des Plantes). They may have been cultivated there as early as 1740. These soybeans were sent to the Comte du Buffon, director of the Museum, by French missionaries in China (Paillieux 1880, p. 561).
1821 – Mr. M.C. Brun de Beaumes, a member of the Agricultural Society of Étampes/Etampes, working at Champ-Rond near Étampes, conducts the earliest known soybean cultural trials in France. During that unusually warm season a Chinese variety gave an abundant yield on a large scale (Memoires 1822, p. 84; Paillieux 1880, p. 561; Itie 1910-11; Piper & Morse 1923, p. 45).
1854 April – Mr. de Montigny, upon returning to France from China, brings with him two varieties of soybeans, which the French call Pois oléagineux (literally “oil peas”). These soybeans are entrusted to the Society for Acclimatization (Société d’Acclimatation) for experimentation. The society disseminates these soybean seeds to its members throughout France (Montgaudry 1855, p. 17).
      Founded in Paris in 1854, the Society for Acclimatization did more than any other organization to bring soybeans and soyfoods to Europe. Their publication, Bulletin de la Société d’Acclimatation, published a wealth of early and original articles on all aspects of soy.
1857 – Vilmorin-Andrieux & Cie., a major French seed company, becomes aware of soybeans (J. Lachaume 1857). As early as Nov. 1859 Louis Vilmorin (1816-1860) presents a report on the soybean to the Society for Acclimatization in France.
1864 – Vilmorin-Andrieux & Cie. is the first French seed company to carry soybeans in their seed catalog, and they have done so until the present (or at least nearly so). In 1864 soybeans appeared in both the company’s English-language (Nov. 12) and French-language (Dec. 18) catalogs.
1880 Sept. – In France, Auguste Paillieux publishes the first of a series of excellent articles about The Soybean, Its Chemical Composition, Varieties, Culture, and Uses in the Bulletin of the Society for Acclimatization. The first article includes a good history of the soybean in France. In 1881 these articles are published in Paris as a very important 126-page book with the same title: Le Soya, Sa Composition Chimique, Ses Variétés, Sa Culture et Ses Usages.
1880 – Soja d’Étampes is the earliest named soybean in France, having been given this name by E.-A. Carrière in Revue Horticole (52:381-85. Oct. 16. See p. 383-84).
1883Origine des plantes cultivées [Origin of Cultivated Plants], a classic by Alphonse de Candolle, contains a long section about the soybean (Soja). An English-language translation is published in 1884 in London.
1885Des productions végétales du Japon [The vegetable products of Japan], by Édouard Mene contains the most extensive information on soyfoods available to date in French.
1886 Jan. – In France, Auguste Paillieux tells the members at a meeting of the Society for Acclimatization that an analysis of the soybean showed that it contains not even a trace of starch and therefore would make an excellent food for diabetics. He is the first to make a connection between the soybean and diabetic diets. He even applied for a patent on the subject.
1888 – In France, the first soyfoods are made and sold: (1) Soy & Gluten Bread, by Bourdin & Co. in Reims. This bread was developed for diabetics; (2) Lecerf’s Soya Bread, by Lecerf & Co.
1889 Dec. – A list of seeds in the collection of the Royal Botanical Garden of Monaco includes a one-line entry for Soja hispida Moench.
1906 – Léon Rouest, an eminent French agronomist, begins to focus his efforts on the acclimatization of soybeans in France and its colonies. Initially he worked in Algeria, then in the south of France, and finally in the middle of France (Bordas 1936).
1908 or 1909 – After 6 years in France, Li Yu-ying returns to China to raise funds for his tofu company ($400,000 of startup capital). Six months later he returned to France with five workers and (apparently) a large supply of Chinese soybeans and coagulant. In France he and his engineers design modern equipment to transform soybeans into soymilk and then tofu. Li establishes the world’s first soy dairy, named the Tofu Manufacturing Co. (Usine de la Caséo-Sojaïne), located in a large brick building at 46-48 Rue Denis Papin, Les Valées, Colombes (near Asnières), a few miles northwest of Paris. He has three main reasons for establishing this plant: (1) He believes that soya could help France to meet its dietary needs; (2) He wants to develop a model processing plant; and (3) Above all, he wants to be able to provide work for about 30 student-workers that he brings from China to whom he provides additional intellectual training by setting up evening classes. The young Chinese students use their wages from making soyfoods to pursue their studies in France. They are escorted to France by Qi Rushan (Ch’i Ju-shan), whose elder brother, Qi Zhushan (Ch’I Chu-shan) managed the factory. Within a year, a second round of workers arrived from China to work at the tofu factory.
1910 Dec. 30 – Li Yu-ying applies for world’s first patent for soymilk, titled “Vegetable Milk and Its Derivatives” (British patent No 30,275). He is issued the patent on 29 Feb. 1912.
1911 May 15 – Li Yu-ying serves his vegetarian ham (jambon végétal), soy cheese (fromage de Soya), soy preserves (confitures de Soya, such as crème de marron), soy bread (pain de Soya), etc. at the annual lunch of France’s national Society for Acclimatization (Société d’Acclimatation) in keeping with its tradition of introducing new foods from little-known plants (Bulletin de la Societe d'Acclimatation 1911, p. 765-67; Bois 1927, p. 126).
1911 June – Li Yu-ying and his Chinese student-workers are making and selling tofu, and by August 1911 he has added smoked tofu, pressed tofu sheets, fermented tofu cheese (in Gruyere, Roquefort, and Camembert flavors), and soymilk.
      Li has also developed and is selling the world’s earliest known commercial lactic fermented soymilk. But we cannot be sure exactly what kind of fermented soymilk product it was. Yogurt? Kefir? Koumiss? Nor do we know the actual French-language name of the product.
1912 Sept.Le soja: Sa culture. Ses usages alimentaires, thérapeutiques, agricoles et industriels [The Soybean: Its Culture. Its Food, Therapeutic, Agricultural, and Industrial Uses], by Li Yu-ying and L. Grandvoinnet is published in Paris (150 p.).
      One of the earliest, most important, influential, creative, interesting, and carefully researched books ever written about soybeans and soyfoods, its bibliography on soy is larger than any published prior to that time. It was first published as a series of eight articles in Agriculture Pratique des Pays Chauds (Bulletin du Jardin Colonial) from September 1911 to April 1912.
1917 Feb. – During World War I the French army is using various soy products, including canned whole soy beans, canned soy-bean soup, whole beans, soy-bean flour, and war bread and biscuits made with soy-bean and wheat flours (M. Balland, p. 300-02).
1919 – Léon Rouest writes his first article (in two parts) about soybeans, titled “Contribution to the study of the soybean” in Le Genie Rural (vol. 11, no. 99-100, pp. 23-26; vol. 12, no. 103, pp. 20-26). In part 2 he describes work with soybeans on the Ferme Expérimentale de Néoculture du Sud-Est, at Villardonnel, Aude. He is acclimatizing soybean varieties (mostly American) to France and breeding new varieties suited to conditions in France.
1921Le soja et son lait végétal: Applications agricoles et industrielles [The Soybean and Its Vegetable Milk: Agricultural and Industrial Applications], by Léon Rouest is published at Carcassone (157 pp.). The book contains an in-depth history of the soybean in France to date.
      But, from the outset, Rouest’s work was opposed by France’s meat and dairy industries, and by importers of oilseeds, especially peanuts and copra (Berbille 1923).
1928 Dec. – The soybean is hardly known at all in France except by some rare importers of Asiatic seeds. In 1924 only 31 tonnes (metric tons) were imported, in 1925 only 8 tonnes, and in 1926 only 6 tons, whereas in 1926 Great Britain imported 46,000 tonnes and Germany imported 364,000 tons. Production of soybean oil is virtually zero in France (Enzler 1928).
1936Le soja français et ses applications agricoles et industrielles [The French Soybean: Its Agricultural and Industrial Applications], by Léon Rouest and Henry de Guerpel is published. This is widely considered Rouest’s most important book. In it he describes his soybean work in the USSR (Northern Caucasus and at the Soybean Institute) from 1930 to 1933. Invited to go there, he left France in part out of frustration. But he was able to bring back to France nearly 200 new and early-maturing varieties, some of which prosper in Normandy, one of the northernmost regions of France (Bordas 1936).
1936Le soja dans le monde [The Soybean in Various Countries of the World], by the Institut International d'Agriculture (International Institute of Agriculture) is published in Rome, Italy (viii + 282 pp.).
      A superb early work, containing extensive original information, looking at developments with soybeans and soyfoods country by country, worldwide. An English-language translation by Kaltenbach and Legros is published later in 1936, but is missing some of the information in the original French edition.
1939Le soja et les industries du soja: Produits alimentaires, huile de soja, lécithine végétale, caséine végétale [The Soybean and the Soy Industries: Food Products, Soy Oil, Vegetable Lecithin, and Vegetable Casein], by Amédée Matagrin is published in Paris. Matagrin was a tireless worker for both soybeans and soyfoods, and he read and translated many American books and articles into French. The scope of his interest was worldwide; he had a strong background in science and technology, and an excellent ability to communicate complex ideas in French.
1938 Feb. 27 – Léon Rouest dies in Chartres, France, at age 65. This great man, the trailblazer, and his pioneering contribution are largely forgotten.
1940 June – During World War II, German forces conquer France. On June 22 an armistice is signed between France and Germany. France is governed from the spa town of Vichy in central France by Philippe Pétain.
      All this had major consequences for the soybean in France. According to Hervé Berbille: Before World War II the French government was hostile to the expansion of soybean acreage in France – largely because the new crop competed with established crops which had political support. But during the Nazi occupation, soybean cultivation was strongly encouraged by the Vichy government because unlike meat, wheat, potatoes, dairy products, etc. which were requisitioned by the Nazis (Le festin du Reich...), soybeans and a few other new crops were not requisitioned. So all the soybeans that were grown in France could be consumed or used in France. Within a few years nearly half a million families in France were growing soybeans in their vegetable gardens to help them survive the Nazi occupation. Many of these adapted soybean varieties had been developed decades earlier by Léon Rouest.
1941 Feb. – The Revue International du Soja (International Soybean Review) begins publication in Paris, France. The publisher is E.V. Letzgus and the editor-in-chief is Henri Vergnaud. The objectives of the publication are described in the first issue. It is the second periodical in history to be devoted exclusively to soybeans and soyfoods – after Soybean Digest, which started Nov. 1940 in Hudson, Iowa, USA. Each issue contains both original articles and reviews of books, articles, and activities related to soy worldwide.
      Regular contributors include Am. Matagrin, Jean Balzli, René Brochon, L. Genevois, Henri Vergnaud, and Johanna Veth.
      The French are very interested in the huge expansion of soybean production taking place in the United States. The 44th parallel (north) runs through both southern France and America’s northern Midwest.
      In April 1942 soybean advocates in France start to be called soyists (soyaïstes).
1941 Aug. 6 – The Groupement Interprofessionnel des Oléagineux Métropolitains (G.I.O.M.) directs and controls the production of soybeans in France (not including its colonies) in conformity with the law of 6 Aug. 1941, as made more specific by the ruling of 18 May 1943.
1941 Le soja en France: Ses possibilités culturales. Ses débouchés industriels. Son intérêt économique [The Soybean in France: Its Cultural Possibilities. Its Industrial Outlets. Its Economic Interest], by Marcel Blanchard, is published in Paris (ii + 200 pp.).
1942 – The first soybeans in Monaco are cultivated by Jules Richard, but hares ate the entire patch. In 1943 the crop was much more successful, although the area was very small – at the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco.
1944Le soja: Culture et utilisations [The Soybean: Cultivation and Utilization], by Am. Matagrin is published in Paris (72 pp.).
1947 March 16 – The First Soy Congress is held in Paris at the International University campus [Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris]starting at 2:30 p.m. It is the first of its kind in Europe. Li Yu-ying (president of the National Academy of Peiping, China) is there, one of two honorary chairmen. There are many illustrious guests and many speeches about soy.
      Late in the evening, a reception honoring China, birthplace of the soybean, took place, and then finally a buffet was served with soy-based cakes and pastries, soy chocolate products, and soymilk. “It goes without saying that this buffet was a considerable success.”
1973 – After the Nixon administration imposed an embargo on all exports of soybeans from the United States in June 1973, France (like so many other countries that were major buyers of U.S. soybeans) realized its vulnerability and began to experiment seriously with soybean production, especially in southern France. That production skyrocketed from only 5,000 metric tons in 1973/74, to 300,000 metric tons in 1989/90, then after falling and rising reached an all-time peak of 308,000 metric tons in 2001/02. After that it fell, but has been rising for the last 3 years.
1982 Feb. 17 – Bernard Storup and Jean de Preneuf are the two main founders of SOY S.A.R.L., one of the first of the new wave of soyfoods makers in Europe. In June 1982 the company starts to make and sell tofu at Cerny (45 km south of Paris) using dairy-style machinery and process innovations; Bernard is the 4th generation of a cheese-making family. In May 1983 they add Croque Tofu (like tofu burgers) in 5 flavors. In Jan. 1987 the company moves to a new building at Saint-Chamond (near Lyon), France. On 7 July 1993 SOY is sold to Nutrition & Santé (based in Revel). On 1 Aug. 1994 the company name is changed from SOY to Nutrition & Soja and they move a third time to their present location in Revel (in southwest France, near Toulouse). In Jan. 2001 Japan's Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. acquires Nutrition & Santé. On 1 Jan 2011 the company is renamed Nutrition & Nature S.A.
1988 Aug. –Triballat (a major French dairy/cheese company) introduces Sojasun, a delicious non-dairy cultured yogurt-like product in 5 flavors. By Oct. 1988 it starts to sell Sojasun in supermarkets and to advertise it intensively on television. Most big French dairy companies are now developing or making soy-based yogurts or yogurt-like desserts (Storup 1989).
1980s to present – Soyfoods are increasingly made commercially in France. In Sept. 1988 manufacturers include: SOY, Cacoja, Lima Foods, Sojadoc, Innoval (Sojalpe brand), Maho (Tofu Kiss), Celia group, and Triballat (Sojasun brand). Soymilk products made by Alpro in Belgium are widely sold in France under the Provamel brand.


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