- Renewal Mill, a food byproduct recycler, is partnering with Oakland's Hodo Foods, a maker of organic tofu, to produce okara flour. The product is made from soybean pulp left over from soy milk processing, according to Food Business News.
- Renewal Mill featured okara flour at the Winter Fancy Food Show earlier this week in San Francisco, where the product's versatility was emphasized, along with its relatively high fiber, protein and calcium levels and gluten-free status.
- Soy pulp had previously been used as animal feed, but Claire Schlemme, CEO of Renewal Mill, told the publication that she saw greater value in using it in human food.
There is often talk about the emergence of new superfoods, but only a few actually attain that status. Soybean pulp could prove to be one of the exceptions if the production partnership between these two California food firms works out.
As Schlemme explained it to Hermann's last summer, a substantial amount of soybean pulp is produced whenever soy milk or tofu is manufactured. For every pound of tofu, nearly a pound of okara is generated, which was then typically diverted to feeding animals. The raw material, however, comes out wet and can spoil, so company worked with Hodo to put in on-site drying equipment that would take the product and produce okara flour.
So far, German bakery company Bahlsen is using okara flour in its products, and Renewal Mill produces both the packaged flour and chocolate chip cookies made with it. The soybean pulp flour is described as having "a subtly nutty, milky flavor" and is typically used with other flours to add fiber, protein and nutrients without changing the taste or texture.
Renewal Mill is optimistic the same technology it's using for okara flour can be applied to other byproducts such as potato peels, pistachios and almond hulls, according to Food Navigator. The company is also exploring a partnership with plant-based beverage maker Ripple Foods to capture split pea starch and develop usable products from it.
In addition, Cargill is collaborating with Renewal Mill through the Techstars' Farm to Fork accelerator program to look into other potential applications for okara flour, including the possibility of extruded products, which could include cereal, bars or snacks. All of these potential partnerships and R&D could mean that soybean pulp and the flour made from it are on their way to becoming a superfood.
Despite the potential, its soybean origins could cause concern. Issues have been raised about soy's impact on breast cancer risk, poor thyroid function and interference with male hormones, but those seem to depend on underlying health conditions, how much soy is eaten and what type. According to Good Housekeeping, moderation is key, and less-processed forms of soy are best.
Soy also has a number of known benefits. It's low in fat, high in protein and has no cholesterol. Drawbacks include being low in calcium — unless fortified with it — and potentially causing allergies. In addition, 93% of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered, which is an issue for some people.
But for consumers who aren't worried about those aspects, the sustainability factor alone could convince them to give okara flour and other byproducts of soybean pulp a chance. Food waste is a huge problem in the U.S. and globally, so helping to divert it from landfills might also attract interest from consumers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, anywhere from 30% to 40% of the country's food supply is thrown away. And research shows that sustainability and food waste practices lead to sales.