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Unlocking additional value from soybeans via the circular economy

Okara (soybean pulp) and soy whey are by-products of the manufacture of foodstuffs made from soybeans; typically, soymilk and tofu (soybean curd). Globally, over four million metric tons of okara are generated on an annual basis as a result of soymilk and tofu production. Associate Professor Shao-Quan Liu and colleagues from the National University of Singapore share insight into their research that has created useful applications for these otherwise wasted products.

Okara is usually used as animal feed or as compost/fertiliser, and excess okara is simply disposed of. Soy whey, on the other hand, is produced in large quantities through tofu production and soy-protein isolate production, and this nutritious liquid side-stream is often disposed of via the sewage system, which can result in water pollution. Scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS), however, have found ways to convert these two by-products into value-added consumer products using zero-waste biotransformation.
Okara can be transformed into a food ingredient with improved functionality, as well as a probiotic beverage, while soy whey can be fermented into a first-of-its-kind alcoholic beverage with a Japanese sake-like flavour profile. As such, more value can be unlocked from the same amount of soybeans used to manufacture soymilk and tofu, thereby contributing to the creation of a resource-efficient, circular economy in the food industry.

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