Researchers from Iowa State University have reported by adding an ultrasonic pre-treatment to the processing of soy the yield of protein that can be added to foods can be increased by 46 per cent.
There has been growing interest in soy protein ingredients, with demand for isolated proteins, for example, reportedly growing by between seven and eight per cent.
Soy heavyweights Solae and ADM, both of which are based in the US, currently dominate the $2.5bn market for soy proteins, followed by Israel's Solbar. The proteins have found use in meat extension, meat and dairy alternatives, nutritional foods, and supplements.
The treatment, which works by exposing defatted soy flakes and cold water to ultrasonics, is also reported to break the bonds tying the sugars to the proteins, thereby improving the quality of the proteins, and boosting the sugar content of the soy whey by-product by 50 per cent.
This by-product has added value because it could be used a replacement to the expensive compounds currently used to grow lactic acid bacteria that produce nisin, a valuable natural food preservative.
"Our preliminary economic analysis showed that the proposed technology could generate revenue up to $230 million per year from a typical plant producing 400 million pounds of soy protein isolate," said a summary of the research project.
"I think this is commercially viable," said Samir Khanal, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at Iowa State.
Khanal said the technology has boosted protein and sugar release in batch-by-batch tests in the laboratory and will now test the efficacy in a continuously flowing stream that would be used in a soy processing plant.
The researchers said they are optimistic the technology can be effective and efficient in a full-size soy processing plant.
The research is supported by a grant of $81,977 from the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a grant of $155,711 from the Iowa Biotechnology Byproducts Consortium, while Cargill and other major food processors are supporting the research project with materials and supplies.