Innovations in Soy

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Soy makes a great deal of sense. It’s cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, highly versatile, and good for you. No wonder food ingredient manufacturers work long hours formulating new and novel soy-based food ingredients.


Soy makes a great deal of sense. It’s cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, highly versatile, and good for you. No wonder food ingredient manufacturers work long hours formulating new and novel soy-based food ingredients.

Since October 1999, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA; Rockville, MD) first allowed food manufacturers to label soy-based foods as being “heart healthy,” soy has increased considerably in popularity. According to SPINS (San Francisco), U.S. sales of soy foods reached $3.9 billion in 2003. That number is projected to be $4.7 billion in 2007.

While some of the success of soy foods comes from FDA’s health claim, much of it can be attributed to increasing and diverse scientific data on soy’s additional health benefits other than the “heart healthy” claim, as well as the ability of food manufacturers to incorporate soy into just about any product-from energy bars, pizza, or smoothies to ice cream. These manufacturing advances have been accomplished by innovations in how soybean components such as milk, flour, and oil have been separated from the whole bean and formulated into ingredients that excel in taste, texture, and nutrition.


In the past, the chief consumer complaint regarding soy was its astringent and “beany” flavor. This quality inherent to soy has made it difficult to incorporate into delicately flavored foods. Since the late 1980s, when food scientists first began to pinpoint the sources of this problem, there have been major strides in minimizing the flavor profile of soy. Much of this research is coming to a head, either in the organic or nonorganic market.

Organic producer and handler Sunrich (Hope, MN) has been working with both Minnesota State and Iowa State universities to develop conventionally bred organic soy varieties that are virtually tasteless. “Organic principles have been applied to breed out some of the lypoxigenase,” says Bill Fenske, vice president of technical services for Sunrich. “Lypoxigenase is the enzyme that reacts with the oil in the soybean to give it a beany, grassy flavor.” Sunrich’s latest product that displays these advances is Soy Poppers, a cereal-coated soy bit used in salads, frozen desserts, and healthy snack mixes.

On the more conventional side, in 2003 Cargill Health and Food Technologies (Minneapolis) commercialized a patented soy isolate system called Prolisse. Prolisse separates the soy protein from the bean via an aqueous solution. This more “organic” process avoids the use of harsh solvents like hexane, providing a better-tasting, more nutritious product.

Mike Matthews, director of soy protein isolates for Cargill, describes Prolisse as a product that is made through “an ultrafiltration process that cuts down on some of the bitter notes and astringency of soy, allowing the food formulator to then build flavor around it.”

Cargill soy products available via this process include Prolisse Soy Crunch, a rice-shaped crisp bit optimal for adding both protein and texture to snacks and nutritional food bars. Soy Crunch comes in three forms, 60%, 70% (with cocoa flavor added), and 80% protein. Another Prolisse product of note is Prolisse for protein-fortified juice beverages, which features a palatable flavor with good suspension stability.

Soy fortification for acid-based drinks is one of the greatest challenges for soy ingredient manufacturers. As a result, much R&D attention has been focused on remedying this problem. Nutriant (Cedar Rapids, IA), a soy ingredient business division of the Kerry Group (Kerry, Ireland), has launched a soy isolate called ISO VIII to meet the need for an acid-stable soy protein. ISO VIII has been designed specifically to remain in suspension in a pH-challenging system.


As soy products increase in familiarity and popularity, food items that never would have been associated with soy, like breads and baked goods, will flourish. This concept is being made possible by ingredient manufacturers like Nutriant, which has developed a reduced-fat, whole-grain soy flour that offers the health benefits of soy in a whole-grain soy ingredient.

“This flour is uniquely processed to retain the ratios of bran, germ, and endosperm as they occur in the whole soybean,” says Peter Murray, head of technical development for Nutriant. “In doing so, it meets the requirements established by the American Association of Cereal Chemists for whole grain. The product can be used in baked goods such as breads, muffins, and fruit-filled bars as well as in extruded or sheeted products such as cereals or snacks.”

Both Nutriant’s soy flour and ISO VIII are made from select varieties of traditionally bred, non–genetically modified soybeans and have been processed without the use of hexane or other solvents in certified-organic manufacturing facilities. “Should our customer choose to, the exact same process starting with organic soybeans can be utilized, resulting in an organic version of either the whole-grain soy flour or the acid-stable ISO VIII,” says Murray.

Another new dry soy product entering the market is ADM’s (Decatur, IL) NutriSoy Organic Whole Soybean Powder. Produced by spray-drying whole soybeans, the powder is given a composition very similar to the natural whole soybean. The process also leaves protein, okara, isoflavones, phytosterols, prebiotic sugars, and oil in their naturally occurring forms, giving the powder an excellent nutritional profile.

“NutriSoy Organic Whole Soybean Powder is a certified organic soy powder, which means you can take advantage of the organic food market’s projected growth-up to 22% through 2005,” says Chris Banocy, consumer brands manager for ADM. “Consumers will be looking for heart-healthy organic foods, so using NutriSoy Organic Whole Soybean Powder is a great opportunity to market products.”


Although certain soy extracts, such as isoflavones, are being explored for their health benefits, most studies have focused on the health benefits of the whole soy protein. In fact, FDA’s approval for the soy health claim came from a review of 27 whole-soy-protein studies that showed soy’s value in lowering levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) in humans. It is this need to maintain the integrity of the soy protein when it is separated from the soybean that has captivated soy ingredient manufacturers.

Prolisse, for example, is processed in a way that helps to maintain the completeness of the soy protein. As mentioned, Prolisse is processed in an aqueous environment. Since isoflavones and other soy bioactives generally are not water soluble, they tend to stay with the protein during the Prolisse process.

“There have been some people who use an alcohol process, which tends to remove the bioactives,” says Matthews. “Any soy protein isolates that are produced in this aqueous environment, even if it’s done using the traditional acid precipitation, will have these bioactives, and they’re all going to deliver that array of health benefits. And our line of Prolisse products all are going to be the same in terms of delivering health benefits.”

Regardless of this perception that whole soy protein is what provides the health benefits of soy, studies have shown that specific compounds within the soybean itself have unique functional characteristics. Isoflavones, for example, have been shown to address menopausal symptoms, aid bone health, and quite possibly be the determining factor in soy’s overall ability to promote heart health. It is this skein of research that has encouraged the food supplement industry to release isoflavone ingredients in large quantities.

Indena (Seattle) released its soy isoflavone product, called Soyselect, in early 2005. Soyselect features two standardized active constituents, isoflavones and saponins, and is one of the few soy isoflavone ingredients to be supported by two human clinical trials in postmenopausal women, both published in the Journal of the North American Menopause Society.

These studies have shown that isoflavones are responsible for interacting with estrogen receptors that may affect symptoms in postmenopausal women. They have also shown that saponins, thought to improve the ability of isoflavones to interact with estrogen, may actually play a role in the cardiovascular system. Overall, Soyselect was effective in reducing the frequency and severity of flushes, provided some relief of hot flashes, and had a favorable effect on cognitive function in postmenopausal women.


The good news about soy is that it’s good for you, is being fractionalized in novel ways to blend well with foods, and is economical for a number of reasons. The challenge most soy manufacturers face, however, is that of public opinion. While U.S. sales of soy foods are increasing by the billions each year, protein-rich products fortified or made possible by soy represent only a small portion of the overall market. Deborah Schultz, market development manager for Cargill, estimates, for instance, that the soymilk market is less than 5% of the dairy milk market based upon volume sales.

“I’ve seen this happen over and over again,” says Schultz. “The word soy has come to mean ‘tastes bad.’ And overcoming that hurdle in the consumer’s mind has become huge. And even though we can have data that prove that our products taste great, getting consumers to not equate soy with bad taste is probably one of the biggest issues the soy industry faces today.”

Regardless of this challenge, opportunity awaits. As Murray notes, some categories within the soy foods market, like meat alternatives, are now approaching a level of maturity in which their growth will slow or even decline; however, there is a bright side, as many of these categories will be reinvented as key components of new food products.

“As their growth has slowed, they are reentering the soy foods category as frozen entrees, appetizers, pizza, and convenience foods,” says Murray. “Other categories are newly emerging-such as yogurts and frozen desserts-or are showing solid growth, like cookies and snacks.”