SOUTH AFRICA – The Food Innovation Laboratory at South Africa’s University of the Free State (UFS) has made significant strides in developing budget-friendly, protein-rich, soy-based dairy alternatives. 

This innovative line includes strawberry, banana, and vanilla-flavored milk drinks, along with berry and banana yogurts infused with natural fruit.

In a remarkable use of resources, the laboratory team has also transformed okara, a byproduct of soybean processing, into dough for vetkoek—a traditional fried bread—and into savory biscuits. 

The lab’s mission is to create high-protein snacks and dairy alternatives from soybeans that are both affordable and nutritious, aiming to tackle undernutrition and enhance food security for low-income communities.

Dr. Brandon Van Rooyen, a leader in product development and commercialization, emphasized the unmatched nutritional and protein benefits offered by soybeans at a minimal cost. 

He points out that soybeans are a cholesterol-free, high-protein food source containing all essential amino acids vital for human growth and development. 

Van Rooyen further explained that one kilogram of soybeans can yield two to three liters of soy milk, costing considerably less than traditional animal-derived products, making soybeans an economically viable alternative.

Since its inception in 2023, the Food Innovation Laboratory has introduced a variety of soy-based high-protein products, such as sausages, mince, and roasted soya nuts, offering a nutritious alternative to conventional peanuts.

This initiative is part of a broader community project designed to educate and empower local populations. 

Wilna Oldewage-Theron, a nutrition professor at Texas Tech University and a research fellow at UFS’s Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development, leads the project. 

The lab’s efforts are funded by UFS and the Oil & Protein Seeds Development Trust (OPDT).

The project’s goal is not only to provide nutritious, affordable food choices but also to uplift communities economically.

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