Once hailed as a matchless plant protein for crafting veggie meats and cheeses, soy protein has lately been pushed aside in favor of trendier options made from peas, nuts, and oats. That may be changing, though. As innovative food companies strive to make better and better plant-based foods, they are turning once again to soy protein.
It’s been a bit of an uphill battle for soy. Surveys of consumer food habits find that beans, rice, wheat, quinoa, and potatoes rate as more healthful sources of protein than soyfoods. Vegan protein powders made from peas, rice, and hempseed outsell those made from soy. A 2016 survey by the International Food and Information Council, found that consumers are trying to get more protein from beans, but less from soy. A growing number of products aimed at vegetarians and flexitarians boast that they are “soy-free” on the label.
There are any number of reasons why some consumers have turned their backs on soyfoods, including concerns about health impacts of isoflavones as well as misinformed views on the impact of soybean crops on the environment. Although soy protein is among the eight most common food allergens, it’s actually the least likely of these foods to cause allergic reactions in adults.1,2 And concerns about soy and cancer have been effectively countered with data on the potential benefits of soy consumption among women with breast cancer.3
But even as apprehensions about soyfoods and health subside, the fact remains that soy is facing competition from new plant proteins for the first time. Soymilk now shares refrigerator space in stores with milk made from almonds, coconut, oats, walnuts, cashews, and flaxseed. Veggie meats are made with everything from lentils to jackfruit.