Soy may well be the oldest plant people managed to cultivate in the prehistoric times. Radiocarbon analysis of archaeological findings in Japan, China and Korea shows that soy was grown as early as 10,000 BC. Legend has it that Chinese emperors would plant the first seed with their own hands to start off the new season. There are written accounts of the mythical ruler Shennong declaring 5 plant species sacred. Soy was the first on his list, followed by rice, wheat, oat and millet. Soy was nicknamed ‘the saviour of the people’ because it eased their hunger, diseases and poverty. Li Shizhen recommends soy to the patients with kidney diseases, oedemas and intoxication in his work The Compendium of Materia Medica.
Soy was delivered to Europe by a German naturalist Engelbert Kaempfer who spent some years in the East and wrote a book about local plants. Europeans, however, didn’t begin to cultivate soy until late XIX century. The biggest champion of soy was professor Friedrich J. Haberlandt: he cultivated soy seeds in Vienna, and soon began to distribute them throughout Central and Western Europe. Most of the farmers who received seeds from him grew soy them, then reported their results back to him. They even used to call soy Haberlandt’s beans.
Soy was found in Russia along the shores of the Amur as early as XVII century, most likely it got there from China.
Soy beans were one of the first real examples of biotechnological food. Molecular genetics was applied to change the characteristics of soy beans so that less pesticides were required to grow it. This modification certainly improved the work safety of the people who sow and gather soy. Genetically modified soy has a longer shelf life and requires less preservatives to be stored. In 2010 over 90% of all soy grown in the USA belonged to the genetically modified species. This achievement of modern science gave hope to many people around the world that world hunger can be stopped.
Naturally, most of cultivated soy is used to produce foods of all kind: soy butter, soy flour, soy milk, baby formula, tofu, soy sauce, etc. A complete list of soy products would occupy many pages. Today, however, soy is more and more widely used in cosmetics. It is a source of soy bean extract and is included in the composition of many complex anti-age compounds created with the use of biotechnology. Soy proteins have a pronounced anti-age effect and they are very compatible with many active molecules derived by biotechnological or chemical synthesis.