Soybeans and Their Transformations

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Finally, the most versatile legume. Soybeans were domesticated in northern China more than 3,000 years ago, and eventually became a staple food throughout much of Asia; their spread was probably contemporary with and encouraged by the vegetarian doctrine of Buddhism. They were little known in the West until late in the 19th century, but today the United States supplies half of the world production, with China in fourth place after Brazil and Argentina. However, most U.S. soybeans feed not people but livestock, and much of the rest are processed to make cooking oil and a host of industrial materials.