SINGAPORE September 2020
 
3 Dairy Alternatives made from soy by-product Okara
 
Singapore’s Republic Polytecnic (RP) School of Applied Science has recently created 3 soy-based functional food prototypes from soy by-product okara. They are DHA-rich cream cheese, sliced cheese and cream soup powder.
All the 3 products were tested to be healthier yet similar in taste to its mainstream counterparts. The cream cheese is infused with plant-based DHA which helps promote healthy brain function. Soy cheese and soy cream soup powder, on the other hand, have significantly lower sodium and sugar content thereby helping to maintain healthier blood pressure and blood sugar levels, compared to the main commercial products available in the market. Soy cream soup also has higher calcium content than the mainstream products.
The idea to process okara into functional, healthier food products led the RP team to win the Delight Explorer Award which recognises students with unique, innovative product & service ideas.
The team is now looking to commercialise this innovative technology and recipe into products for the mass market.
AFBR has recently interviewed Dr Heng Kiang Soon, Lecturer from the School of Applied Science, Republic Polytechnic to find out more on this exciting new innovations and its feasibility for mass commercialisation. The following are excerpts from the interview:

Can the 3 products be commercialised for large-scale production and will it be economically feasible for the manufacturer?
Yes, we have indeed successfully demonstrated their production in the lab and they are all feasible to be commercialised for large-scale production. We formulated the soy cheese series products by keeping in mind the cost-effectiveness and feasibility of the processing method in a real industry setting. In Singapore alone, there are 30 tonnes of okara produced as waste daily, leading to large amounts of food waste and environmental issues. Turning these underutilised okara into something nutritious and even functional can translate into reduced ingredient cost and economic benefits for food manufacturers.
We are open for commercialisation through a recipe licensing.

If these products were to be sold, will they be positioned as a premium product with high prices?
We conducted a techno-economic assessment and estimated that the production cost of the soy cheese series products is comparable to that of conventional products. However, the pricing will depend on the manufacturer or seller.
As the health benefits of the functional soy cream cheese is backed up by scientific research, we hope consumers can enjoy the optimal health benefits with high confidence and at an affordable cost.
We notice several health benefits that can be derived from these products, how are these benefits validated?
We wanted to not only reduce food waste but create products that are healthier, more nutritious and functional than what are commercially available.

Soy cream cheese
From a nutrient analysis conducted by an independent accredited laboratory, the amounts of saturated fat and sodium in the soy cream cheese are low, making it a suitable candidate for Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) in Singapore for Lower in Saturated Fat and Lower in Sodium. The soy cream cheese is also free of cholesterol.
Our okara treatment method has increased the total antioxidant capacity (TAC) of the soy cream cheese. We compared the TAC of our soy cream cheese utilising treated okara with soy cream cheese with untreated okara and a commercially available dairy cream cheese. Results showed that the soy cream cheese with treated okara (our product) has significantly higher TAC than the other 2 samples (refer to Figure 1.0). The higher antioxidant activity in the soy cream cheese can help to neutralise free radicals in our body and prevent diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as chronic diseases.

Sliced soy cheese and cream soup
In our preliminary test, both sliced soy cheese and soy cream soup powder have significantly lower sodium and sugar but higher potassium content compared to commercial cheese and soup product samples. Therefore, individuals with diabetes and hypertension can still enjoy the cheese and soup as part of their healthy diet.
To enhance the functionality of the soy cheese series products, we managed to enrich them with a plant-based DHA. DHA is a fatty acid that is important for healthy brain and nerves. In our preliminary study on a small sample group, DHA-rich soy cream cheese potentially increased the mental focus in young adults, promoting healthy brain function. I have presented these initial findings in Vitafoods Asia Conference, September last year in Singapore. While this is meant to be a preliminary study, we plan to conduct further studies to validate that our soy cheese conclusively promotes healthy brain function and other body functions.

Can these benefits be utilised by manufacturers in their product claims?
Yes, the ingredient choice and formulation for the soy cream cheese was done while keeping in mind the criteria for Healthier Choice Symbol. This will definitely provide unique selling points for manufacturers.

You mentioned that these products are similar in taste to standard commercial products, what about the shelf lives and product appearance?
Our microbial analysis showed that under 4°C storage for 7 days, the total bacteria count was still below 105 cfu/gram. In other words, the soy cream cheese is microbially stable under refrigeration for up to 7 days. Further study can be conducted to prolong the shelf life with the addition of natural preservatives.
Our texture analysis of the soy cream cheese showed a comparable spreadability with a commercial dairy cheese. The soy cream cheese with treated okara also shows a significantly higher softness than soy cheese with untreated okara, indicating the positive effects of our okara treatment method.
The taste and other physical properties including appearance of our soy cheese largely replicates conventional dairy cheese, so we believe that the series of okara soy cheese will be well accepted by consumers. This was also supported by the sensory evaluation that we had conducted with panelists. Majority of the respondents perceived that the soy cheese is as good as conventional dairy cheese in terms of taste and mouthfeel, although it does have a distinct soy taste.
 
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