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soya bean

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The soya bean, or soybean as it is also called, particularly in North America, is today the most widely grown and economically important member of the bean family. Ranging in colour from yellow to green to red and black, it is extremely rich in protein, and has in recent decades become a key part of the Western diet in the form of textured vegetable protein, a meat substitute. It has been used for millennia in its native eastern Asia, though, and in a wide variety of forms: its young sprouts are eaten; it is soaked in water to produce soya milk, from which bean curd is prepared (known in Japanese as tofu); it is fermented to produce sauces and other condiments; it is ground to make flour; and it is even made into a sweet confectionary paste. The word soya comes via Dutch soja from Japanese shōyu, ‘soy sauce’, which itself was a borrowing from Cantonese Chinese shiyau, a compound formed from shi, ‘salted beans used as a condiment’ and yau, ‘oil’. The form soy, used mainly for the sauce rather than the bean it is made from, comes directly from Japanese soy, a colloquial form of shōyu. Soy sauce, incidentally, has been known in the West since the seventeenth century. Details of its manufacture were naturally hazy at first (‘I have been told that Soy is made partly with a fishy Composition … tho a Gentleman told me that it was made only with wheat, and a Sort of Beans mixt with Water and Salt,’ William Dampier, New Voyage Round the World, 1699), but by 1747 Hannah Glasse was recommending its use in her Art of Cookery.

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