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Surinder Sud: Soya - hidden proteins

Surinder Sud: Soya's hidden proteins
Business Standard, April 28, 2014
Soya meal has more protein than pulses and could be a cheap source of this nutrient in which most Indians are deficient
Despite widespread protein malnutrition and high prices of protein-rich food items, India exports more edible protein available in soya meal (de-oiled soya bean cake) than it imports through pulses. Soya meal contains about 50 per cent protein, which is almost double that in pulses. Since annual soya meal exports are around 5.5 million tonnes, almost twice the pulse imports of two to three million tonnes, India is clearly shipping out several times more protein than it is bringing in annually. Not only that, we are exporting superior quality soya meal protein quite cheaply for around Rs 60 a kg (at current international prices) and importing protein in the form of pulses at five times the cost, around Rs 300 a kg. This is obviously unsound economics and a woeful nutrition security strategy.

Cost-wise, soya protein stands out as the least expensive and nutritionally the most-valuable protein compared to that obtained from any other vegetarian or non-vegetarian source. At current domestic prices, the per-kg cost of soya protein comes to around Rs 70, if it is obtained from fat-free soya flour, and Rs 150, if it is extracted from full-fat soya flour. In contrast, the protein derived from pulses costs almost double at Rs 300 a kg, and that from other foods even higher - Rs 480 for eggs, Rs 1,000 for milk, Rs 1,020 for chicken, Rs 1,080 for fish and Rs 1,800 for meat.

These telling facts were brought out in a background note for a recent brainstorming workshop on the role of soya bean in household nutrition security, held in New Delhi earlier this month. It was organised by the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

The underlying message this note intends to convey is that we should make better use of soya bean to alleviate protein malnutrition at home, rather than extracting oil and selling off its by-product, soya meal, abroad as animal feed. Apart from 40 per cent protein, the soya bean grain carries several other useful ingredients, including carbohydrates, minerals and other chemical compounds that possess valuable therapeutic traits. Soya protein is deemed good for the heart since it lowers blood cholesterol. Carbohydrates in soya bean help relieve constipation and are not forbidden for consumption even by diabetics. Some phytochemicals present in soya bean are presumed to prevent cancer and curb osteoporosis, besides other ailments. The most outstanding feature of soya protein is that it does not have any negative health impact.

For maximum health benefits, experts recommend soya bean to be consumed directly as wholegrain or by mixing it with wheat flour or millets. It can also be processed into products, such as roasted, fried or fermented snacks; sattu; soya milk; soya paneer or tofu and so on.

The technology for producing whole soya grain-based convenient foods is being developed by various organisations, notably the Indore-based Directorate of Soybean Research, the Agro-processing division of the Bhopal-based Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, and some agricultural universities. Techniques for making over 30 nutritious soya foods have already been evolved by these institutions and are being passed on to prospective entrepreneurs for commercial exploitation. Regular training programmes are also held for those intending to take up soya bean processing at the cottage-industry level. In fact, over 400 soya-based food enterprises, big and small, have already come up.
Given all these facts, it is indeed ironic that in India soya bean is counted among oilseed and not pulses. Hardly 15 per cent of its annual production of 11 to 12 million tonnes is consumed as food. The bulk of it, nearly 75 per cent, is used for extracting oil and getting soya meal.
The need, therefore, is to promote soya bean cultivation as part of a well-conceived strategy to combat rampant protein undernourishment, especially among the poor. Currently, soya bean cultivation is confined largely to Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which together account for over 85 per cent of the total output. In fact, Madhya Pradesh alone accounts for nearly 60 per cent of production. There is tremendous untapped potential for expanding soya bean acreage in states such as Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and even some northeastern states. But area expansion has to go hand in hand with the emergence of the soya bean processing industry. Otherwise, the trend may not endure.