Perceived health benefits and cost advantages spur new ingredient technologies and a range of soy products.

Although corn, wheat, rice, rye and potatoes comprise the basis for most snack and bakery products, another crop is adding up to a pretty big hill of beans. The humble soybean has been appreciated for millennia because of its wide range of uses in foods and industrial products. That said, as recently as a few years ago, soy was sometimes smirked at for its place in tofu sold at health food stores or quietly incorporated into products but not touted on the label. Only in the past few years has the word “soy” been splashed on packages in both mainstream and natural stores, called out as an important ingredient in everything from pretzels to fortified breads. Moreover, at this time of higher raw material costs, soy has gained another halo as an affordable replacement for more expensive ingredients.  “The demand for soy as an ingredient has grown because of its health image and some functional benefits. Soy ingredients are perceived as healthy ingredients, and most of the food companies want to include soy on their food labels,” says Mian Riaz, head of the Extrusion Technology Program and associate research scientist at the Food Protein Research and Development Center at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. Manufacturers also confirm a two-pronged trend exists. “Today, the demand for soy ingredients is principally driven by two significant trends sweeping the food industry: the need to reduce or manage food costs and the desire for products to fit consumers’ health and wellness needs,” observes Jean Heggie, director, market insights, for the Solae Co., a St. Louis-based alliance between DuPont and Bunge Ltd. that supplies soy protein isolates and concentrates, textured soy protein concentrates, soy protein crisps and soy fiber to the snack food and bakery industries, among other sectors. To gauge the buzz on soy, just ask how many people a decade ago knew what roasted edamame was or heard about the effects of isoflavones on blood cholesterol. For those seeking more concrete verification, the St. Louis-based United Soybean Board recently released a report showing that 37% of consumers specifically seek out products containing soy for health reasons, compared to 31% in 2006 and 26% in 2005. More than a third said they are aware of information from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration that consuming 25 g. of soy protein per day reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Likewise, Cincinnati-based Givaudan has conducted focus groups to determine awareness about trendy ingredients that are associated with healthy foods. Participants, not surprisingly, were able to identify specific health benefits about soy. “Consumers told us that as they get older, health and diet are more important to maintain,” says Jonathan Seighman, applications director, sweet goods. “As a result, they spend significant time reading magazines, searching the Web and getting advice from others in similar situations.” Although consumers report they are most familiar with soy foods like meat analogs, soymilk and tofu, many snack food companies and bakeries feature soy on their products’ labels, in the form of soy flour, soy protein isolate, soybean oil or textured soy, among others.

Packing a Protein Punch

As health professionals have expounded the benefits of soy, snack and bakery food producers have increasingly created or reformulated products to add a soy claim. “Soy is an excellent source of high-quality protein that is low in saturated fat. Evidence suggests higher protein diets are more satiating, so it can help with weight loss,” notes Mark Messina, a Port Townsend, Wash., soy expert and columnist for The Soy Connection newsletter. “There is also more speculative evidence that soyfoods reduce heart disease risk independent of their effects on cholesterol.” “The nutritional benefit is added protein,” concurs Linda Beck, global product process development manager, soy protein for Cargill Texturizing Solutions, Minneapolis, citing FDA’s health claim for soy protein and heart health. Cargill offers several different types of soy ingredients, including Prolia soy flour and Prosante textured soy flour for protein fortification and other functions. Another positive attribute linked to soy, compared with other protein sources, that “as a plant-based protein, soy protein is also complementary in foods positioned as ‘natural’ and has strong sustainability-positioning advantages versus animal-based protein,” Heggie points out.

Functional Properties

While the push for soy protein is more recent, soy flour has long been used in baked goods and certain snack products to impart particular characteristics. According to Heggie, Solae’s soy protein crisps provide a crispy texture in snack foods like nutrition bars and snack mixes, while in baking mixes, layer cakes, snack cakes and cookies, its soy proteins can improve cake structure, resiliency and shelf life. Many soy ingredients provide functional properties in products. Cargill’s soy flour products, for instance, offer increased water retention, reduced fat absorption in donuts, a crunchy texture for use in cereal clusters and inclusions, among other attributes. Jon Stratford, sales and marketing manager for ingredient supplier Natural Products, Inc., Grinnell, Iowa, reports that 90% of its soy ingredient business comes from bakery companies and for traditional products like rolls and bread. “What is growing is the specialized use of soy for functional reasons, for things like emulsifying and binding,” he says of the company’s whole soy ingredient that allows for better water binding, restriction of fat absorption in deep frying, emulsification and longer shelf life. Price is another reason manufacturers are turning to soy, as an addition or replacement for other ingredients. Cargill’s soy flours, for example, are being used as full or partial egg replacements, Beck says. The company’s Prolia soy flour, along with protein fortification, provides cost savings compared to soy concentrates and isolates, whey, caseinate and other milk proteins. With its Supro 430, meanwhile, those at Solae are promoting that the soy protein isolate replaces milk proteins and helps reduce formulation costs. Natural Products, Inc. is driven by supply and demand issues, too. According to Stratford, the company recently expanded its line of blended soy ingredients. “We have three blended soy products on the market – one is replacement for egg yolks or whole eggs, one is a foam stabilizer that allows industrial cake companies to reduce egg whites and one is a nonfat dry milk replacer,” Stratford reports. While some manufacturers look to replace eggs or dairy for cost purposes, the burgeoning demand for egg- and dairy-free products based on food allergies is another factor, Stratford adds. There’s no need to count on other ingredients to get your nutritional yet affordable fix. Soy is a good alternative for consumers as well as the bean counters at snack and bakery food companies.