Researchers Reduce Processing of Soy Products to Boost Household Consumption

April 30, 2015
Dr. Kristin BilyeuA low-latitude soybean plant is evaluated for characteristics related to pod density, node number and plant height.

Soybean contains a complete protein and offers an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including iron, folate and potassium. However, converting raw soybean into a marketable product is a complex process that limits widespread consumption in many developing countries where food insecurity and undernutrition are chronic problems.

Soybean is native to East Asia and unfamiliar to populations in many developing countries, so researchers with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research, led by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, are investigating how training people to properly handle, process, and cook soybeans at the household level using local recipes might increase sustainable consumption of this nutritious crop.  

One of the challenges associated with increasing soy consumption is that most soybean varieties require significant heating and processing to remove or neutralize anti-nutritional parts of the plant, such as trypsin inhibitors, enzymes that prevent the breakdown and digestion of many different proteins. The time and infrastructure needed to support processing is costly, so the Soybean Innovation Lab is driving research and development of a low-processing soybean variety in order to determine more conclusively whether processing is a major deterrent to household consumption.

This research will be conducted in three target villages in Mozambique. The Soybean Innovation Lab’s research lead for human nutrition, Dr. Marilyn Nash with the University of Illinois, is collaborating with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) on the assessment.

Dr. Kristin Bilyeu, with the University of Missouri and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, is leading efforts to develop a low-processing soybean variety by identifying new methods for removing trypsin inhibitors and lectins, which reduce the absorption of nutrients, without using heat processing. Through conventional breeding methods, the research team is also using naturally occurring genetic mutations in soybean to select for traits that result in low levels of these two anti-nutritional components.