A 2013 Markets and Markets report revealed that the soy ingredients industry is at “a prime focus in the food industry for its health benefits and functional properties”, with a faster growth rate than other vegetable protein. As more research is conduced to find newer applications, the market is expected to expand – Marisa Lourenço

In 2013 the global soy protein ingredients market had the fastest growth in the North American and Asia-Pacific regions. The report, Soy Protein Ingredients Market by Types (Isolates, Concentrates, and Others), Applications, and Geography – Global Trends and Forecasts to 2018, stated that “North America comprises the world’s largest soy protein ingredients manufacturers like DuPont-Solae LLC, ADM Inc., and Cargill Inc” and “most of the associations and education institutes working on soy health benefits and processing reside in US.” The region is expected to continue to register moderate growth.

Europeans are “more aware” of the health benefits of soy, and thus the inclusion rate of soy protein ingredients in their diet is increasing. Across the continent, Europeans are rejecting the use of GMO soy protein ingredients in food, resulting in lower imports of soy meal from North America and Latin America. Asia is the largest market for traditional soy food, though the lowest in consumption of soy protein ingredients. Within this region, China and India are the fastest-growing markets. Australia and New Zealand consume soy protein isolates mostly in the form of soymilk, soy beverages, energy bars, and meat alternatives.

A range of applications

Its versatility as an ingredient alongside various health benefits is central to this growth. The processing of soybeans produces soy protein isolates and concentrates. Isolates produce a higher quality protein, at 90%, compared to the 70% produced by concentrates. While concentrates are cheaper, manufacturers favour isolates for the “high nutritional profile and low sugar-fat content”. Moreover, concentrates “slightly retain soybean’s nutty flavour” compared to isolates, which have “bland taste … [which is] considered as undesirable by the food manufacturers”.

In 2012, soy protein isolate was the leading product in the soy protein ingredients market, followed by soy flour. Soy protein is also ideal for infant formulations, and the market provides products that are used as stabilisers, emulsifiers, tenderisers, gelling and binding agents, and thickeners in food and beverage processing. It provides several ingredients necessary for long term human health, including essential amino acids, calcium, fibre, polyunsaturated fats and lecithin, iron, isoflavones and magnesium. It is also low in sugar and fat. Soy flour is also a popular alternative to wheat as a gluten-free ingredient.

Textured soy protein is made from soy flour and contains 50% soy protein. It is known as the ‘poor man’s meat’ as an alternative to animal protein. Beyond being cost effective these ingredients are “environmentally friendly as they save water resources and provide high energy”, in comparison to the cost in raising cattle.

Soy protein does, however, have various limitations that could hinder its growth, according to the report. These include the “allergic nature of soy and anti-nutritional factors”. Manufacturers are working to reduce this.