Soybeans could begin cutting into the maple syrup market sometime soon.
Anita Chung and Evelyn Yeh, winners of this year’s Project Soy competition among students at the University of Guelph, have developed a maple syrup knockoff product from a blend of soybean protein and fibre.
Peter Hannam, who started the competition in 1996 when he headed First Line Seeds, says this is one of the few products he’s seen that could be exported to Japan.
Canadians export plenty of edible soybeans to Japan, but the Japanese are far ahead of Canadians in developing food products from soybeans across the entire spectrum of markets – from mass markets to niche markets and exotic products.
But a maple syrup knockoff is distinctly Canadian and likely to appeal to the Japanese who are fond of maple syrup.
Chung and Yeh also note that their product is healthy food, especially for those concerned about heart disease.
The U. S. Food and Drug Administration “has identified soy protein as a functional food due to the high content of protein,” Chung and Yeh write in a brochure that accompanied their entry.
“Soy protein has been authorized to aid in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels,” they wrote.
In addition to unsaturated fats, carbohydrates, protein and fibre, they pointed to micronutrients such as calcium, iron, niacin, zinc, magnesium, copper, folic acid, essential amino acids and vitamins such as B12 and B6 in their product.
Carolynn Seaton was the winner in the diploma-program section of the competition with drink containers made from soybean stalks and pods. Her display set Tim Hortons roll-up-the-rim coffee cups beside her more environmentally friendly soybean cups.
Hannam was joined by the Ontario Soybean Growers Marketing Board in 1997 as joint sponsors with the University of Guelph. Their competition has given rise to hundreds of products, but so far no smashing market successes.
Hannam said part of the reason is the difficulties in patenting anything related to the food industry.
He said a student who made candles has managed to develop and maintain a niche market for his product and said truffles that were in the competition last year elicited interest from a Quebec-based manufacturer, which has its eye on developing the product for marketing in France.