Soybeans are native to Asia, where they have grown wild for thousands of years. The Chinese were one of the first peoples to cultivate these wild beans about three millennia ago. It took almost a thousand years for them to develop soybeans as a viable food source. Unlike its legume relatives, soybeans were not consumed whole in the beginning; instead, they were ground into soup.

As the popularity of this bean spread across China and other parts of Asia, innovative Asian cooks experimented with soybeans to produce palatable dishes. One of the first soy foods was soy milk, which is juice strained from the crushed beans. Many Asian cultures often added salt or a sweetener and used it like animal milk.

In the 1st century BCE, these countries discovered how to ferment soybeans. In their natural state, soybeans do not taste good; with a little experimentation, early Asians created a soy product that was easy to make and flavorful. The process darkened the soybeans and gave them a pleasant salty taste, hence the name salty black beans. These were enjoyed as a soup or blended with other ingredients.

The invention of salty black beans was a precursor to soy sauce. Chinese producers found ways to blend fermented soy juice, flour, salt, and water into an iconic condiment that has defined Asian-inspired cuisine. Most Asian dishes depend on soy sauce instead of table salt as a savory ingredient. Over time, other cuisines have adopted it as an ingredient or condiment.

It was around this time that the Chinese created another soy product that became legendary in their cuisines. When they added a mineral called gypsum to solidify a bowl of soy milk, the result was a silky curd they called tofu. Not only is tofu rich in plant protein, but the gypsum provides essential calcium. It became the ideal meat substitute for vegetarian religious groups in Asia. Eventually, soy foods found their way into early European kitchens, and on to the New World. It caught on with Westerners in the 1970s, when health foods and vegetarianism become more than just a trend. Today, cooks from around the world embrace soy food, and are constantly finding new ways to prepare it. Soy is in everything from savory dishes, tasty drinks, and tempting desserts. Try these exciting soy recipes for your next meal!

Grilled Tofu With Spicy Peanut Sauce

While some tofu varieties are as silky as sour cream, others have a firm texture that holds up well on the grill. Try placing generous slices on your grill, and brown them with a blend of traditional Thai spices. After you get the perfect grill marks, smother your tofu with this recipe for spicy peanut sauce.

Soy Fruit Smoothie

Are you short on time and need a quick snack? Smoothies are the modern way to drink your fruits and veggies on the go. Here is a satisfying smoothie recipe that is “berry”licious. Strawberries, cranberries, and blueberries are the main attractions. Add a kick of banana, sweet grapes, and creamy tofu to the blender, and you have a smoothie worthy of an ice cream parlor.

Tempeh Reubens

Instead of traditional corned beef, these yummy sandwiches use tempeh. They are bursting with the flavors of sauerkraut, creamy Greek yogurt, and a savory spice blend. Build a Reuben on freshly-toasted slices of rye bread, and top with your favorite shredded Swiss cheese. If you cut into fourths, it makes a simply delicious appetizer.

Mini Vegan Key Lime Icebox Pies

You will not believe your taste buds when you try these easy key lime tarts! They are an ingenious blend of soft tofu and avocado, with a tart kiss of key lime juice. This eggless “custard” is nestled in a tender crust of toasted coconut, crushed almonds, and sweet dates. Then, place in the freezer to set. They are simple, quick, and vegan-friendly.

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