Q.1 Sir, first of all, could you please tell our readers about soybean and the scope of soybean processing in the emerging food market?

Soybean (Glycine max) is a leguminous plant and is native to Northern China. Soybean has over five millennia been cultivated for food uses. More recently, in the 19th century and over the past one and half-century, it was introduced and has since grown successfully in many other parts of the world, notably in the U.S.A, Brazil, and Argentina with lesser production in other Asian countries and some part of Europe. The soybean plant is sensitive to photoperiod (day length) and temperature, with optimal agronomic traits and yield potentials coming from varieties grown in their optimum adapted region. Modern agriculture technology has enhanced farm practices and management and enabled the development of soybean varietals with different traits and for different uses.

Nowadays, soybean can be said to be a plant increasingly important for agriculture, because it is one of the main food sources in human and animal nutrition. The physical and chemical attributes of soybean are of great importance to the use of soybeans.

Physical attributes mainly including size, density, moisture, and colors. The size and density are closely related to the moisture content. The seed coat colour is an indicator of soybean diseases, while the helium colour is more dependent on the gene type. Soybean with different sizes and colours tend to be applied in different food processes. Chemical components of soybean seeds are classified as protein (40%), carbohydrates (33.5%), oils (21%), ash (5%), and other minor components (0.5%). The functionality and use of soybeans are related to their chemical characteristics.

Brazil, the USA, Argentina accounted for 80% of world production in 2019-2020. China is the fourth and India is the fifth largest producer of soybean in the world.

Soybean is one of the very few plants that provide a high-quality protein with minimum saturated fat. Soybeans help people feel better and live longer with an enhanced quality of life. Soybeans contain all the three macronutrients required for good nutrition, as well as fibre, vitamins, minerals. Soybean protein provides all the essential amino acids in the amounts needed for human health. Soybeans have almost 40% protein, making them higher in protein than any other legumes and many animal products. Protein in just 250 grams of soybean is equivalent to protein in 3 liters of milk or 1 kg of mutton or 24 eggs. The quality of soy protein is virtually equivalent in quality to that of milk and egg protein.

Unlike many other good sources of protein, soybean not only has a higher percentage of oil but also a quality fatty acid profile. Soybean oil is also rich in omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, similar to those found in fish oils and cholesterol-free. Soybeans are an excellent source of dietary fibre with both soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre may help lower serum cholesterol and control blood sugar. Insoluble fibre increases stool bulk, may prevent colon cancer, and can help relieve symptoms of some digestive disorders. Soybean has all the important vitamins and is a very good source for B complex vitamins and Vitamin E.

Soybean and Health Benefits

In addition to containing rich nutrients, soybean has other beneficial compounds such as phytosterols, lecithin, etc. Soy protein has several health benefits such as, cancer prevention, cholesterol reduction, combating osteoporosis, and menopause regulation. Human studies suggest that as little as one serving of soy foods each day may be protective against many types of cancers. For the past 30 years, investigators have shown that consumption of soy protein selectively decreases total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and maintains HDL (good) cholesterol in individuals with elevated blood cholesterol levels. Another important aspect of soy protein is combating osteoporosis and relieving menopause symptoms. One factor in bone health is limiting the amount of calcium lost from the body. Although protein, especially animal protein contributes to calcium loss, soy protein exhibits less calcium leaching effects. The isoflavones found in soybeans may also directly stop bone deterioration. Recent research has shown that soy foods can relieve most menopausal symptoms, thus reduce risks of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Soybean is considered a natural alternative for hormone replacement therapy for treating women who are in menopause.

With the speed of changing consumer trends and preferences, manufacturers are doing their best to determine how they can capture the consumers' attention and satisfy their needs and requirement with their unique products. Therefore, leading to the need to have more and more Research & Development, and Product Innovations.

Asian consumers rank soy among their most preferred types of plant protein. Soy protein itself accounted for over 60% of new product innovation globally within the food and beverage featuring plant-based protein types.

Q.2 In East Asian countries, such as Korea, China, and Japan, soybean products have been consumed as part of the regular diet for centuries, while only recently, soy products are gaining acceptance in Western countries. Sir, as a person associated with research and development in soybean, we would like you to outline the interesting trends that you have observed in India in soybean?

A huge volume of soybean is utilized yearly in Southeast Asia for food mostly, in the form of traditional soy food and beverages, making it one of the highest consumption regions in the world, accounting for about 25% of the global soy food market. With innovations and trends towards plant-based food development, this region will continue to contribute towards the global compounded growth rate of soy foods of 5-6% to reach a market size of $55.6 billion in 2025.

Fermented soy products generally come from Chinese or Japanese culture. Various fermented soy foods are commonly found in Asia including in North-Eastern states of India. The most popular fermented products are tempeh. Tempeh is a unique product of Indonesian culture, which has been consumed since the 1600s, especially in Javanese society. Initially, tempeh in Indonesia was made from black soybeans and fermented using an inoculum derived from hibiscus leaves

Indian uses about 1.3 million metric tons of soybeans for various food applications like soy flour. There is an increasing demand for plant protein nutrients, especially soybeans. Recently soy food processing has emerged as an excellent option in the food processing sector creating considerable employment opportunities on a small, medium, and large scale, providing low-cost nutrition to the masses in India. Indian population is predominantly vegetarian. Our diet is lacking in terms of quantity and quality of protein. Even the majority of non-vegetarians among us do not consume animal products daily in quantities sufficient to provide the recommended amount of protein. Soy is the best nutrition option and the least expensive source of protein in the country.

According to the Protein Paradox (a paper recently disseminated), India accounts for 32% (46.6 million) of the world’s stunted children. Moreover, 84% of the Indian vegetarian population is protein deficient, leading to a myriad of health consequences, like resistance in immunity to COVID-19. Moreover, nearly 66% of the 1.04 million deaths in children are under the age of five in India, are attributable to malnutrition. Here exists a huge opportunity for soy food processing and utilization in India.

Q.3 Could you elaborate on the safety and quality standards that micro-enterprises can follow in soy processing?

Micro-enterprises should follow the food processing norms framed by the regulatory authorities and complete all the required licencing formalities including the FSSAI registration followed by the regional regulations by the local health authorities. They should also need to understand the regulatory framework and relevant regulations in soy processing.

One can follow the legal standards for the particular products as prescribed by the food standard regulation authorities like FSSAI, the packaging norms, and the latest scientific evidence to address soy health issues.

Enterprises should trust and use the information from credible sources and translate it into messages so that it can be easily understood by the target audience.

Q.4 What are the potential opportunities and technologies available for soybean micro-enterprises?

All types of soy food processing machinery are manufactured and available in India. Soy food processing is a very charming food business in India involving highly qualified professionals of IIT and the IIM background as well. There are more than 2,000 soy food industries running on small, medium, and large scales catering to the demand for soy foods on a local and regional basis. These companies are producing a large volume of soymilk, tofu, and various kinds of soy food products every day.

These companies are investing money to source good machinery and acquiring technical know-how from other countries as well. A good number of the soy food producers visit the Gulf food in Dubai and the Anuga food show in Germany and visit the United States and the Southeast Asian countries to attend short-term courses, factory visits, and training programs on soy food processing. They are implementing those techniques in their processing to expand their businesses.

Q.5 According to you, what are the soy-based product that micro-enterprises can produce?

There is a wide range of whole soybeans, soy flour, and soy protein isolate-based products that are being produced in the country. These are as follows:

  • Soymilk, tofu, and other derivatives
  • Soymilk Powder
  • Textured Soy Protein (Nuggets and Granules)
  • Soy protein isolate/ concentrate based products
  • Protein bars
  • Soy fortified flours
  • Bakery Products
  • Soy fortified Snacks
  • Ready to Eat (RTE) foods
  • Soy nuts
  • Soy noodles
  • Ready to eat energy foods
  • Indian Traditional fermented foods
  • Tempeh
  • Soy-based meat analogues
  • Soybean Oil

Q.6 What are your views on the soybean processing industry of the future and the innovation of the ecosystem in the crop?

Although the soy food processing sector is growing at a faster rate of 9-10% annually still needs to develop at a pace to bridge the protein gap of the country. The soy processing industries should be integrated into the nutrition intervention programs of the government. This will ensure easy access to soy food products on local as well as regional levels and would be the best way to provide low-cost nutrition to the masses and creating employment opportunities.

There is an enormous business potential exists in the soy food processing business in India. Recently, we saw investments from Japan and Netherlands in the soy food processing space. Soy is not a staple food in India. Hence, the requirement to process and serve the best optimal quality to the customer is paramount. With specialized modern food processing techniques and scientific interventions, soy food companies have improved quality, but due to a lack of affordable, high-quality raw ingredients, especially the specialty soybeans for food use, the soy food processors feel challenged for new growth opportunities.

Inconsistent and inferior raw soybean quality is the leading cause of dissatisfied consumers wanting better taste, texture, and flavour profiles.

Indian soybeans are oil and meal-centric, suitable for animal utilization. There are no food specialty soybeans grown in the country. Thus the supply of the same does not exist. While all Indian beans are non-GM, they are also treated as commodity beans regardless of the end-user; be it in the food or feed industry. When soybeans are needed for food applications, Indian producers grade and select the best beans from the general lots and sell them at a premium price. Unfortunately, this does not qualify to satisfy the specialty food characteristics and do not match up with the quality standards and expectations for producing retail end products the consumer’s desire.

Now the world is switching over to an environmentally sustainable farming system that involves lesser carbon footprint, soil and water conservation, less use of chemicals and fertilizers, and applying good agricultural practices. Consumers are also being conscious of environmental concerns and prefer the products processed by using sustainable agricultural practices.

In Japan and some other countries, the soy food processors declare it on their label about using the raw material grown in an environmentally sustainable manner and get higher sales and premium to their products. The Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2021 Organizing Committee preferred all the Agri. Food products including soy products from an environmentally sustainable origin.

About The Guest

Dr. Ratan Sharma has more than 25 years of extensive experience in developing the soy food business and its commercialization in India and many other countries. He worked as a Director (Soy Foods) in the South Asia region for the United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and continuing as a Technical Representative with the same organisation.

His passionate mission to bring soy-based foods into the mainstream markets and social welfare programs witnessed a rapid increase in the utilization of soy for human food and has resulted in a meteoric rise in the consumption of soy in the human food category. Dr. Sharma has conceptualized soy as low-cost nutrition and established over 2,000 small, medium, and large-scale soy food processing enterprises, self-help groups, and NGOs. Thereby, providing low-cost nutrition and generating employment opportunities for the families empowering men and women in rural and urban areas in India. In collaboration with the government establishments, state cooperation, financial institutions, and international aid agencies, he designed and conducted numerous entrepreneurship and skill development programs on food processing strengthening the entrepreneurial motive and techno-commercial know-how among the targeted group. He has extensively travelled to many countries in connection with the soy processing and utilization under ASA, USSEC, WISHH, Malnutrition Matters, World Bank, AFRICARE, etc.

Dr. Ratan has played a major role in establishing soy food processing a food processing industry status and its regulatory recognition in India. To the best of achievements credited to his credential is transference of low cost and relevant technology from Canada to India, other South Asian and African Countries to process Soybean into dairy alternatives like Soymilk and Tofu. As a result of this, a large number of entrepreneurs from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and African countries invested in the soy food processing business providing low-cost nutrition and creating employment opportunities in these countries. His contribution to the Soy Food Industry in India and the Asian countries have been well recognized and documented in the book “History of Soybeans and Soy Foods in South Asia/Indian Subcontinent” (1956-2010) by William Shurtleff, and also in other soy history books by William Shurtleff.

(Content shared by Dr. Ratan Sharma, Technical Representative (South Asia), United States Soybean Export Council)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the above guest and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Ministry of Food Processing Industries.