Soybeans (or soya beans) are a legume species native to East Asia. Soybeans originated in Southeast Asia and were first domesticated by Chinese farmers between 1700-1100 BCE. In 2853 BCE, Chinese Emperor Sheng-Nung named five sacred plants: soybeans, rice, wheat, barley and millet. Between the first and the sixteenth centuries, soybeans were introduced to Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Nepal and India. The oldest preserved soybeans have been found in an archaeological site in Korea and in the Yellow River basin of China. The soy plant didn’t arrive in North America until the late 1700s; there are accounts of it in gardens in Georgia in 1765 and Illinois in 1851. By 1879, farmers began cultivating soybeans as forage for livestock. By the turn of the century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was encouraging farmers to plant them as animal feed. (Surprising for me, as I was under the impression that corn and soy feed were products of post-war industrial agriculture! It seems agriculture had started to shift much earlier than this.) Currently, thirty-one states in the US grow soybeans. In 2007, the US was the leading producer of soybeans (with 32% of the world’s total soybean production), with Brazil (28%) and Argentina (21%) following close behind; China produced 7% and Canada 1%. Like corn, most of these soybeans do not make it to consumers directly: they are used as fodder or exported. Again, like corn, soybeans are also highly subject to genetic modification. Since 1997, GMO soybeans have been used in an increasing number of products. In Ontario today, there are about 200, many of which are genetically engineered. Soy varies in growth and habit. The pods, stems, and leaves are covered with fine brown or gray hairs. Soy is self-fertile, producing white, pink, or purple flowers. The fruit (bean pods) grow in clusters of three to five and each pod contains two to four seeds. Soybeans come in many sizes and colours, including black, brown, blue, yellow, green, and mottled. When eating soybeans or soy products, be sure to choose non-GMO, organic varieties (and local, when you can!). Soybeans are a source of complete protein, high in essential fatty acids, numerous vitamins and minerals, isoflavins, and fiber. One cup of soybeans provides 57.2% of the Daily Value for protein. Soy tends to lower cholesterol levels, while animal protein tends to raise them. Soy contains a good deal of well-absorbed iron, magnesium, and Omega-3s. Edamame are a great way to eat fresh soybeans, simply boil in water and sprinkle with salt. Traditionally, soy is processed into soy milk, tofu, and tofu skin and fermented into soy sauce, miso paste, natto, tempeh. To learn more about the art of traditional tofu making, check out one of our suppliers, the Toronto-based company, Yin Yin Soy Food ( http://yingyingsoyfood.ca/ ).