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Soya beans were a crucial crop in eastern Asia long before written records. They remain a major crop in China, Japan, and Korea. Prior to fermented products such as soy sauce, tempeh, natto, and miso, soy was considered sacred for its use in crop rotation as a method of fixing nitrogen. The plants would be plowed under to clear the field for food crops Soya was first introduced to Europe in the early 18th century and to British colonies in North America in 1765, where it was first grown for hay. Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter in 1770 mentioning sending soyabeans home from England. Soyabeans did not become an important crop outside of Asia until about 1910. In America, soya was considered an industrial product only, and was not used as a food prior to the 1920s. Soya was introduced to Africa from China in the late 19th century, and is now widespread across the continent.

The soya bean first arrived in South America in Brazil in 1882

Traditional nonfermented food uses of soya beans include soya milk, and from the latter tofu and tofu skin. Fermented foods include soya sauce,fermented bean paste, natto, and tempeh, among others. The oil is used in many industrial applications. The main producers of soya are theUnited States (35%), Brazil (27%), Argentina (19%), China (6%) and India (4%). The beans contain significant amounts of phytic acid, alpha-linolenic acid, and the isoflavones genistein and daidzein.

The U.S., Brazil, Argentina, China and India are the world's largest soyabean producers and represent more than 90% of global soya bean production.The U.S. produced 75 million tons of soyabeans in 2000, of which more than one-third was exported. In the 2010-2011 production year, this figure is expected to be over 90 million tons. Other leading producers are Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, China, and India.

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