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Soybeans: Domesticated > 3000 Years Ago, Popularity Effects Now

Soybeans: Domesticated > 3000 Years Ago, Popularity Effects Now

Twenty two archaeological sites throughout northern China, Japan and South Korea provided evidence that soybeans were domesticated at least 3,000 years ago (ScienceDaily 2011). To think, they proliferated way back then, and continue to increase in popularity. This popularity both offsets an environmental wrong and creates a new one. Apparently, soy exudes complexity in its old age.

Archaeological Findings:

Sources: 949 soybean specimens from 22 archaeological sites in northern China, Japan and South Korea (Gyoung-Ah et al. 2011; ScienceDaily 2011).

NOTE: cal BP: cal = calibrated years (from curves comparing radiocarbon dates to known stratigraphy or tree ring timelines; BP = before 1950

  • “9000–8600 cal BP in northern China and 7000 cal BP in Japan” (Gyoung-Ah et al. 2011): Widespread early association with soybean
  • Japan – 5000 cal BP; Korea – 3000 cal BP: Larger soybean size (could be domesticated)
  • 2720–2380 BP in Korea (tested in 2000): First unambiguously domesticated soybean seed
  • Japan – 5000 BP; Korea and China – at least 3500 BP: Soybean cultivation and selection
  • 9000 to 5000 BP across northern China, Korea and Japan: Soybean selection (all bulleted elements cited to (Gyoung-Ah et al. 2011).
Environmental Soybean Footprint Now
  • Energy use for fish protein production is up to 14 times that of vegetable protein (Reijnders and Soret 2003)
  • Non-vegetarian meals have an impact of 1.5 to 2 times vegetarian ones (Reijnders and Soret 2003)
  • BUT EXCEPTIONS TO ABOVE NUMBERS OCCUR: deep freezing, long distance air transport, some horticultural practices push vegetarian environmental footprints above those of locally produced, organic meats (Reijnders and Soret 2003)
  • A large portion of soybean production occurs in Brazil, where enormous tracts of rainforest are destroyed for the crop. Between March and May, 2011, rainforest destruction for the plant increased to 593 kilometers (147,000 acres -about the size of Toronto) (Soliani and Dantas 2011)
This is a conundrum. A vegetarian for the last 32 years, I use a variety of sources for protein now, probably more than a meat eater. This not only due to the Brazilian soy conundrum, but there are a variety of reasons not to put all your eggs (not my favorite source of protein) in one basket. Still, I do eat a small amount of soy. Next time I do, I’ll tip off my hat (if I’m wearing one) to the northern Chinese, Japanese and Koreans thousands of years ago.



Environmental Impact:
  • Quantification of dietary protein sources’ environmental impact, click here.
  • Bloomberg News article about increase in rainforest deforestation in Brazil for soy crops, click here.


Gyoung-Ah, Lee, Gary W. Crawford, Li Liu, Yuka Sasaki, Xuexiang Chen

2011    Archaeologiccal Soybean (Glycine max) in East Asia: Does Size Matter? PLoS ONE, 2011. Electronic document,, accessed November 20, 2011.

Reijnders, Lucas and Sam Soret

2003   Quantification of the Environmental Impact of Different Dietary Protein Choices. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78 (3):664S-668S. Electronic document,, accessed November 20, 2011.


2011   Soybean Adoption Came Early by Many Cultures, Archaeologists Say. ScienceDaily (November 17, 2011). Electronic document,, accessed November 20, 2011.

Soliani, Andres and luri Dantas

2011   Amazon Deforestation Jumped Sixfold on Expanded Soy Planting, Brazil Says. Bloomberg, May 18, 2011. Electronic document,, accessed November 20, 2011.

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Soybeans: Domesticated > 3000 Years Ago, Popularity Effects Now by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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