The Soy Advantage
by Jeff Gelski
Soy keeps making ripples in the melting pot of American cuisine. Once used primarily in Asian dishes and health food items, soy is now giving the grain-based food industry new opportunities for culinary innovations , ones that can tap into the health and wellness trend and elevate profit margins. Soy is even showing up in an Italian creation loved by Americans.
“We are seeing a great deal of interest in pizza crust,” said Jean Heggie, segment marketing director for The Solae Co., St. Louis, MO. In responding to the low-carbohydrate trend, the company has used soy to formulate a pizza crust with 7 g of net carbohydrates per serving.
Likewise, the emerging Hispanic aspect of the American diet is starting to see soy as one of its major ingredients. Members of the Research Chefs Association studied ways to apply soy into tortillas at a May 11 workshop at Minneapolis, MN.
Food manufacturers also want to put soy in cereals, cookies, breads and pastas, according to Terry Gieseke, director of business development for Cedar Falls, IA-based Nutriant, a division of Kerry Group plc.
Retail sales of soy foods in the United States reached $4 billion in 2003, up from $3.65 billion in 2002, according to “Soyfoods: The US Market 2004,” a report published by Soyatech, Inc., Bar Harbor, ME, and SPINS, Inc., San Francisco, CA. “It’s a very different demand,” said Ann Stark, who works in the soy applications group for Cargill, Inc., Minneapolis, MN. “It’s not cost-driven. Ten years ago, soy on the label was a negative. Now, it’s a positive.”
National and global food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers have noticed the consumption numbers.
“A decade ago, the only food companies working with soy ingredients as primary ingredients were smaller natural food companies that had limited research abilities,” said Monty Kilburn, the director of marketing and sales for Devansoy, Carroll, IA. “Now, Pepsico, General Mills, Kraft and all the big companies are beginning to incorporate soy into their research.
“You have very talented scientists who are obviously going to make improvements in the products,” he continued.
This includes researchers working for Archer Daniels Midland Co., based in Decatur, IL, a city that’s also home to the “Soy City Motel” and the “Soy Capital Bank and Trust Co.” ADM offers a NutriSoy branding program for customers that use ADM soy protein in their recipes.
On the outskirts of Olathe, KS, not far from amber waves of grain, sits ADM Specialty Food Ingredients, a division of ADM that works with bakery ingredients. Experiments with soy over the years have led to a cleaner soy taste and less of a beany flavor, according to Charles Morris, research manager-bakery, ADM Specialty Food Ingredients. Soy suppliers often ask Mr. Morris to test new soy ingredients.
“People must continually go back to their suppliers and say, ‘Hey, have you got anything else?’” he said. “Every six months, you should see if there’s been any changes.”
SHOOTING FOR 6.25 G
Western consumers, including Americans, still get most of their protein from animal-based sources. In contrast, Asian populations tend to get their protein from grains, primarily soy. Researchers have examined the differences in diets because Asian countries show lower incidences of heart disease and cancer than Western countries. Such studies led the Food and Drug Administration in 1999 to approve a health claim for soy that reads: “25 g of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
Soy sales surged once the claim came out. Food manufacturers sought ways to get 6.25 g, or one-quarter of 25 g, of soy into a serving. Recently, experiments have focused on putting soy into foods that Americans already enjoy, like pizza, pasta and bread.
Adding more soy flour and subtracting wheat flour gets bread closer to the target level of 6.25 g of soy protein. That strategy has a drawback, though. Because the added soy flour absorbs more water, the bread system weakens, and the dough rheology becomes slack, according to Mr. Morris.
“There’s a very good reason why we were not using high levels of soy in the past,” Mr. Morris said, “however, that doesn’t mean we can’t do it in the future.”
Bakers may find it easier to reach 6.25 g per serving in a denser variety of bread such as artisan bread than in traditional white bread, according to Nutriant’s Mr. Gieseke.
“There is a barrier in traditional white, fluffy bread,” Mr. Gieseke said “We can get you to 5 g, which is a nice spot for consumers. It lets you talk about the bread being a good source of protein. And usually at that level, it’s a good source of fiber, too.”
Bread slices generally weigh 50 g. Buns and rolls are as many as 80 g per serving, making the soy level of 6.25 g more achievable.
“It amazes me that we don’t see (bakers) taking greater advantage of that,” Mr. Morris said.
Weighing about 30 g per serving, cookies can be even more challenging, according to Cargill’s Ms. Stark.
“But if you use the correct soy product, it can usually be accomplished,” she said. “In bakery products, often the soy flour may be the better choice, but you can supplement it with isolates to reach a claimable level.”
TAKING OUT THE BEANY TASTE
But how will those bakery products taste? Flavor comes into play when incorporating soy into foods. Randy Shogren, a research scientist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Peoria, IL, found that out while experimenting with soy flour.
Bread mixtures in his research contained as much as 40% soy flour and the rest in wheat flour. Overcoming soy’s beany taste became a major impediment, according to Mr. Shogren. Adding yeast, sugar and small amounts of vitamin C improved the taste.
Barabara Klein, co-director of the Illinois Center for Soy Foods at Champaign-Urbana, IL, said research there has shown soy can work well with many flavors, including chocolate, coffee, brown spices and oatmeal.
“You can incorporate it into a number of things,” she said, “anything with chocolate, for example, or things that are spicy. (The soy) doesn’t fight with it.”
PROFITS THROUGH PROTEIN
Incorporating soy into your grain-based products won’t come cheap. Soy protein isolates can run $1 per lb, while wheat flour costs 14c to 15c per lb. Understandably, the final product costs more at retail. The price can vary depending on product form, specific application and product category, according to Ms. Heggie.
“We’ve seen premiums range from 25% vs. traditional product to 250% greater than that of traditional product,” she said.
Retail sales of soy foods have grown at a faster rate than food service sales, according to Ms. Klein. Less than $100 million in sales of soy foods goes to the US food service channel, according to “Soyfoods in Foodservice,” a study done by The Hale Group, Danvers, MA, and Soyatech, Inc.
Workers at the Illinois Center for Soy Foods seek to change those numbers. Research there focuses on developing processing and marketing techniques and promoting the health benefits of soy. The center was involved in a pilot program that provided soy-based foods to five school districts in Illinois during the 2003-04 school year. The program was a joint effort with the Illinois Soybean Checkoff Board and ADM.
Soy-based grain products such as cereal bars went over well in school breakfasts, according to Ms. Klein. Another popular breakfast item, Uncrustables peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from The J.M. Smucker Co., Orrville, OH, has yet to join the soy revolution. “There’s no reason why that bread couldn’t have some soy in it,” Ms. Klein said.
LOW-CARB BENEFITS AND MORE
Soy ends up in many grain-based foods designed for the low-carbohydrate market.
Many companies are asking Solae about ways to reduce the carb content of traditional grain-based foods, according to Ms. Heggie.
“Some customers targeting consumers who are ‘cutting back on carbs’ are generally considering a more moderate carb reduction,” she said. “Others who are targeting the low-carb dieter are looking at more substantial reduction targets.”
As in other applications, Solae can work with soy flour, soy protein concentrates and soy protein isolates to reach the customer’s desired carbohydrate level.
Devansoy offers a full-fat roasted soy flour. When used at a recommended rate of 25% to 30%, the soy flour can reduce carbohydrates and improve the product’s texture. It can even work in pretzels produced for the low-carb market, according to Mr. Kilburn.
For another potential low-carb solution, the technology licensing firm BTG of London, England, and West Conshohocken. PA, owns the patent to a soy-rich dough that is six parts protein and one part carbohydrate. The company is seeking a licensing deal with a food group to sell the dough, which may be used in pretzels, pizzas and snacks.
Even if the low-carb trend fades, food companies can promote other health benefits in low-carb products that feature soy, according to Mr. Gieseke. “If low-carb were to crash, (companies) can shift positions,” he said. “It’s a multilayered position, and that alleviates risk.”
A CASE FOR CLAIMS
The number of soy health claims could rise soon. FDA is reviewing a petition for a health claim that suggests the consumption of soy protein-based foods may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast, prostate and colon cancer . The Solae Co. submitted the petition, which includes a review of 58 studies.
Other studies have analyzed possible health benefits from soy isoflavones. Occurring naturally in plants and mostly in soybeans, isoflavones are functionally similar to estrogen but not as potent. Because of the similarity, it has been suggested that isoflavones may have preventive effects for many kinds of hormone-dependent diseases.
ADM uses a proprietary method to extract isoflavones from soybeans to produce its Novasoy isoflavones.
The company recently asked four experts in the areas of toxicology, medicine, pharmacology and animal physiology to review isoflavone literature. The scientific panel noted research being conducted about the potential effects of soy isoflavones on decreasing the risk of breast cancer and prostate disease, maintaining bone calcium and plasma cholesterol levels consistent with good health, and protecting against cardiovascular disease.
The Solae Co. owns a method-of-use patent on isoflavones, according to Bob Powell, director of new business development. The company has applied soy isoflavones in grain-based bars and other baked foods and is seeking to extend the number of items.
NEW OILS ON THE WAY
Current concerns over elimination of trans fatty acids from foods has left the soy industry searching for solutions. FDA will require the labeling of trans fatty acids in the Nutrition Facts panels effective Jan. 1, 2006.
Studies have shown trans fatty acids can raise LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and lower HDL, or “good” cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. Trans fat is found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, including partially hydrogenated soybean oil.
A new 1% linolenic soybean patented by Iowa State University at Ames looks promising. Its oil will require no hydrogenation to stabilize it after pressing.
About 2,000 acres of the 1% linolenic soybeans were planted in 2003, according to Walter Fehr, an ISU agronomy professor. Plantings of 1% linolenic soybeans could reach 1 million acres as early as 2005.
Monsanto, St. Louis, MO, is partnering with the US Soybean Board to produce soy that fits the needs of food manufacturers, according to David Stark, Monsanto’s vicepresident of global industries partnership.
“The good news is that you don’t have to turn away from soy,” said Steve Poole, a member of the US Soybean Board. “Trans solutions are very near commercialization.”