Although unconfirmed, it is believed that the plant derives from a Chinese legume: Glycine ussuriensis. The plant can grow up to two metres in height with self-fertilizing flowers. Most commercial varieties have brown seeds with four seeds per pod.

Soya has been eaten and cultivated in China since 2,800B.C. and it was considered one of the five essentials for living.

During the 18th century, missionaries sent soya beans back to Europe; one of the earliest widespread uses of the bean was a cheap source of