URBANA, Ill. — Utilizing the soybean’s unique properties has opened the doors to a broad range of applications that provide protein and oil worldwide.

Those numerous uses were the focus of the recent “Processing and Marketing Soybeans for Meat, Dairy, Baking and Snack Applications” course hosted by the International Soybean Program at the National Soybean Research Center on the University of Illinois campus.

“One of the really cool things about soy and one of the things I’ve always loved about it is that it’s really so much more than just a soybean. It is a protein resource and an oil resource, and that’s very unique when we look at the various crops that are around,” said Bridget Owen, National Soybean Research Laboratory associate director.

Owen was among the course’s opening speakers with her presentation on soybeans as a food ingredient.

A soybean’s value comes from when it’s processed into its various components.

“Those various ingredients are then processed and can be utilized for a whole range of food, fuel and industrial applications, and soy is just such a gem for that,” Owen said. “From an oil perspective, it’s a great lipid resource. It’s traditionally been a strong oil source for us in cooking oil, as well as in food ingredients.”

All one needs to do to see the importance and wide usage of soybean oil in the baking and processed food sectors is to look at the food’s contents label, and those usage opportunities continue to increase through soybean breeding and research.

“It’s such an exciting time right now because we’re seeing so many great things happening with new varieties being introduced with some of the recent new high oleic varieties we’ve seen,” Owen said. “But we’ve also seen other components come out that are being shown to have good nutritional benefits, as well as functional benefits for the oil side of things.

“I just think there are a lot of really exciting things on the horizon for soybean oil, and that presents some really nice opportunities in the food sector, as well as our continued work with biodiesel, too, and then also the pull-off from that for the industrial applications, as well.”

Soybean protein also has created greater demand through an expanding list of products, and Owen has witnessed these opportunities in her role overseeing NSRL’s nutrition programs in various parts of the globe.

“We do a lot of work with the defatted soy flour, which is about 50-percent protein content. That product goes into all different kinds of things,” she said. “It goes into a lot of baking applications. We’ve done work with it in noodle applications, instant noodles like the dry ramen noodles with some work in Cambodia. We’ve also seen it utilized in pastas and other noodle-type applications.

“We’re doing a project right now using some defatted soy flour in snacks and have done work with the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department with some product development that they have worked on for India for an extruded snack with soy flour.

“It has really nice applications. It’s very adaptable and versatile.

“We’ve also used defatted soy flour a lot in our school feeding programs around the world because it works really well as a component to a soups and sauces, and it works in beverages, as well. It adds that protein punch into the system, but doesn’t drastically alter the flavor profile, so it works really well in that.

“It also brings some functional aspects to some systems that can also be really helpful.”

Defatted soy flour also is utilized in some baking applications that allow for cost savings by reducing the amount of eggs needed.

“Then if you take that defatted soy flour and you further process it, extrude it, it gives it some texture. You then get the granules or the textured soy protein and that is really a fantastic product to work with,” Owen explained.

“We do a lot with textured soy protein because it is such an adaptable product. It’s very easy to prepare. It’s user-friendly, and it’s a great product when you add it to a food system — it absorbs the flavors and spices in that system that it goes into.

“So it’s really a nice product in that it picks up all of those flavors, but it has nice texture or mouth-feel to it, so it can mimic meat products. We’ve used it as a meat-extender in combination with meat products, and we’ve also used it in places where meat just wasn’t accessible.

“So we’ve used it a great deal in school feeding programs where, unfortunately, the economics didn’t work out, where a school couldn’t afford to bring in meat products or they didn’t have a cold chain to allow them to bring in the meat products.

“We’ve done that in Central America, India, Africa, Southeast Asia, all of the different locations, and what’s really great that textured soy protein is it works in all those different applications because it picks up those different flavors that are common to those local cultures.

“When we do it in school systems, I always like that because I think that’s the biggest challenge. Kids are very straightforward, and they don’t have a problem telling when you messed it up. They’re always are biggest critics. They’re a good test case because they’ll tell you right away whether it’s good or not.

“We’ve had really good success with textured soy flour.”

Textured soy protein also has a greater shelf life, allowing schools in the developing world to store the product, and it can then be prepared by the local communities that prepare the lunches.

Textured soy protein is utilized in many different products in the U.S., as well.

There also are other processed products in the soy protein family that are available.

“Soy protein concentrate, which has about 65 to 70 percent protein content, is a fantastic product that is utilized in a number of food applications, particularly in meat processing, beverage application, some baking application and also some of the pasta applications,” Owen said.

“It gives you a little bit more protein punch and also has some nice functional aspects to it. Concentrates are an excellent product when you’re looking for that higher level of protein, but also a real nice product to work with.”

She said the concentrate and the soy isolates which contain about 90-percent protein can be utilized in the meat sector. The course included a stop at the Meat Sciences Laboratory to see these applications.

“You’re able to utilize these soy proteins, and you’re not losing that important protein in those meat products, but you’re gaining some functional aspects that are really useful when it comes to moisture retention, their ability to cook evenly and the overall quality and texture of the meat. It provides some nice functional aspects to that,” Owen said.

“Isolates are also commonly utilized in beverage applications, utilized in a lot of the nutritional products such the nutritional shakes, beverages and formulas. They’re also utilized in ice cream and soup-based dishes.

“These products offer a lot of options for people designing new food products. They also offer a lot of options for consumers, too, such as protein bars, shakes and other beverages, cereals and all these different things that bring that nice protein punch to them. Soy plays a really important role in all of that.

“We have an excellent soy processing industry in the U.S. that delivers this huge variety of products that bring not only great nutrition, great functional attributes, but also really good taste.”