Date: 23/03/2023

BRFi Talks invites Rodrigo Nardi, a graduate in Food Engineering from the Universidade do Oeste de Santa Catarina, a specialist in Chemical Engineering, and a lecturer at SENAI in Santa Catarina. Nardi holds a chair in Research and Development at BRF Ingredients in the Food Ingredients segment, where he manages the categories of Soy Proteins, Breadcrumbs, and Vegetable Fats.

What is your view on the current market and trends for soy proteins?

Today, the soy protein market has great potential for use and growth. This is due to several niches emerging in the market, particularly from new consumers and new consumption trends. The demand for more natural, healthier products, or those with a cleaner label without so many artificial ingredients is driving this segment. Moreover, the issue of nutritional enrichment and other segments, such as Plant-Based, further enriches the use of soy in current food markets.

As a development and application specialist, what would you say about the stigmas surrounding the use of soy protein in product formulations?

Soy is a grain surrounded by various stigmas, but I believe the greatest one currently exists concerning antinutritional factors. These are some components within the grain that can hinder the absorption process of nutrients. They are not intentionally artificial ingredients added in the product; they are part of the plant's natural defense. Thus, they will not affect the final product's performance or consumer's nutrition. Another controversial factor regarding soy is the issue of sustainability, but we have gained many new developments in recent years that have favored a sustainable and economically viable grain cultivation.

What are the differences between soy flours and proteins, where do they resemble and differ?

They have a common base, which is the soybean. All of them originate from the soybean, and what can differentiate them is the grain processed entirely, which generates whole soy flour, or processed for oil extraction and dehulling, which is a slightly more complex process, resulting in defatted soybean meal.

Defatted soybean meal is used for the production of most soy protein derivatives, with the first being defatted soy flour, which comes from ground and sifted defatted meal. It only undergoes a grinding process, and in this case, what will differentiate soy flour and its different categories is the degree of cooking and roasting.

Soy flours will have an application depending on their degree of roasting and protein content, which ranges between 48% and 50%. Within the soy protein market, protein content is a key factor for application.

Texturized protein undergoes a cooking process by extrusion, in which mechanical pressure and heat are used to modify the protein's structure, favoring greater water absorption, a different texture and expansion. This gives a texture similar to that of meat protein, favoring all functional properties of water absorption, but maintaining the protein content, which ranges between 48% and 50%.

In other products, concentrated and isolated flours undergo a process of removing undesirable components, increasing the protein content of the final product. Therefore, flour, meal, and defatted meal start with 48% protein; a process of concentration or isolation of protein is carried out, removing unwanted substances. In the case of concentrated protein, only sugars are removed, increasing the protein content to 68%. In the case of isolated protein, soluble sugars and fibers are removed, and the protein content increases to 88%. Thus, the application is directed towards much more refined properties, according to the type of segment where it will be used.

There is a very consolidated market habit which is the use of soy proteins in salty foods, such as hamburgers, sausages, kibbeh and meat-balls. So, what are the alternatives of application in other markets?

Actually, the use of soy protein in the meat segment is well-established due to its versatility and properties, mainly for modifying texture, improving the product's slicing and stretching potential. However, we can expand to other segments, using these same properties in other product categories, such as bakery: bread, cakes, cookies; in the processing of base flavors, broths, sauces, and soups. For chocolate base fillings, cake fillings, candy fillings, and even in cookie fillings; in the formulation of chocolates, ganaches, and coatings. In addition to dairy products, such as beverages, ice creams, and some creams such as hazelnut, peanut, and other products that tend to have a higher fat content in their formulation.

Soy protein is widely used as a substitute for animal protein. What functionalities make this ingredient the best choice for certain products?

Basically, when we talk about functionality, we refer to properties that these proteins tend to provide to the final product. The main highlight is their ability to absorb water and fat, and with that, they can form a very strong bond with these components, forming a very stable emulsion. This emulsion generated by these proteins has a low breakage index and tends to be a very strong bond, and this aspect is very interesting for when I need color formation and viscosity, as in the case of creams, sauces, soups, and some beverages or in emulsified products.

This is what makes these properties so important. In addition, since some soy products still have carbohydrates in the composition of these proteins, there are amino acids that favor the formation of color and aroma through reactions that occur within cooking processes. This promotes an enhancement of the existing aromas within this category, promoting new flavors, and demonstrating the versatility of employment in various types of products that meet the needs and desires of each customer, allowing the creation of new products or even the improvement of existing ones in the current market.

One thing draws much attention and we have already spoken before is the opportunities in sweet food markets. What are the applications and gains for this industry?

It’s in the sweet food industry where I see the biggest gains. Today, there is a great demand for clean label products, which have a reduction in chemical additives and a cleaner label. With the addition of soy proteins, stable emulsions can be obtained, replacing these chemical emulsifiers, and obtaining products that are just as similar. In fillings, for example, inactive soy flour favors the formation of emulsion, provides a gain of body viscosity, and even favors aeration, which is very interesting for ice creams.

In ice creams, the more aerated, the softer and greater the creaminess sensation in the palate. For chocolates and toppings, it favors the reduction of fat bloom, which is common in the category because this protein forms a very strong bond with the fat and prevents the filling fat from migrating to the surface or the chocolate itself from being migrated to the surface of the product, causing these white spots that are very common in chocolates.

For bakery products, such as bread and cakes, the issue of color and aroma formation is very interesting, greatly favoring the obtainment of bread with a very intense caramel color with the use of soy flours. A very special case is that there is the Active Soy Flour that has the potential to lighten the bread's crumb and can partially or even totally replace the use of chemical whiteners. In addition, the protein content is extremely high in these products, above 48%, generating nutritional attractiveness to products with protein reinforcement and more elevated proteins, which is interesting from the consumer's point of view.

Another very interesting factor is the decrease of production costs, as the proteins tend to be cheaper than animal proteins and can partially or totally replace the use of milk and eggs in some formulations.

Besides the Food market, do you see opportunities in other industries such as, for example, the Animal Nutrition?

The pet food niche has been gaining a lot of strength in recent years. The use for the production of feeds, snacks and other food varieties for dogs and cats, is a very interesting use because it explores all the nutritional factors that the protein has in animal feeding. In addition, it has functional properties, such as emulsification and fat binding, and is a more attractive product that facilitates industrial processing.

These aspects greatly favor gains in formulation, as they have the ability to form very complex aromas and the use of palatalizing agents for certain types of feed, which is gaining a lot of strength. Another niche that is still under study, but has many supporters, is the use as a nutritional agent for fermentation. Today, biotechnology is one of the great branches that is being studied within food production, and soy products as a nutritional medium for the growth of these microorganisms and the production of compounds such as aromas, antibiotics, organic acids, and enzymes are gaining a lot of strength.