SOUTH AFRICA – South African Food Innovation Laboratory at the University of the Free State (UFS) has introduced a new line of affordable, protein-rich soy-based dairy alternatives.

This initiative is part of a community project spearheaded by Prof Wilna Oldewage-Theron, a Nutrition Professor at Texas Tech University (USA), and Dr Brandon van Rooyen, a researcher at the UFS Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development.

The project aims to alleviate food insecurity in the country by producing a range of economically feasible, high-protein snacks and dairy alternatives using soybeans.

“We have successfully developed low-cost, commercially viable, high-protein flavored soymilk drinks in a variety of exciting flavors: strawberry, banana, and vanilla,” Dr Van Rooyen said.

“Additionally, we developed a range of yogurt from soymilk, featuring flavors such as berry and banana, which contain real fruit.”

Rooyen explained that during the extraction of soymilk from soybeans, a fibrous byproduct called ‘okara’ rich in protein and other nutrients is produced and typically discarded and was utilized to form the dough for making ‘vetkoek’ and a variety of savory biscuits.

Since its inception in early 2023, the lab has developed a variety of high-protein plant-based products, including soya sausages and mince.

They have also introduced healthy snack options such as roasted soya nuts, which serve as high-protein alternatives to peanuts.

This year (2024), we took the project further. During one of our community engagement projects at the ‘Best is Good Enough Academy’ school in the Vaal, we noticed a need to develop soymilk-derived products,” Dr Van Rooyen added.

The communities actively sought new and exciting products made from the inexpensive  soymilk they could easily produce.”

He highlighted the nutritional advantages of soybeans used to produce soymilk, noting that they are naturally cholesterol-free and high in protein.

“Soy protein is particularly beneficial as it contains all essential amino acids necessary for human growth and development, often unavailable from other plant sources in the same quantities.”

He further explains that essential amino acids are the building blocks for muscles and body development. “In low-income communities, there is often a clear lack of protein due to limited access and high costs.

These products will be crucial in addressing the nutritional needs of the communities. Additionally, over-nutrition – characterized by the consumption of high-energy, low-nutrient foods – is prevalent, leading to health issues such as high blood pressure and insulin resistance, even in young children.

The project, funded by UFS and the Oil & Protein Seeds Development Trust (OPDT), aims to promote small, medium, and micro-sized enterprises in low-income communities.

The project uplifts communities financially by training and educating them on the benefits of soy as a food source and how to process it into income-generating products. It provides access to affordable and nutritious food choices.

Subscribe to our food and agriculture industry email newsletters that provide busy executives like you with the latest news insights and trends from Africa and the World. SUBSCRIBE HERE