Soy flour in demand for low-calorie dishes

by Junji Yamaguchi

Kyodo

Soybean flour has surged in popularity thanks to health-conscious consumers who are seeking a lower calorie alternative to standard flour without compromising too much on nutrition.

Since May, Mei Bao, a restaurant touting healthy Chinese food in Tokyo’s Shimbashi district, started serving deep-fried noodles made from 100 percent soybean flour. The noodles have only 10 grams of sugar, about 75 percent less than those made from wheat flour.

“The dish is particularly popular among young women and male company employees who are conscious of their health,” a restaurant worker said. “The noodles are almost sold out every day.”

Soybean flour is made by grinding without adding heat, unlike “kinako,” the flour made from toasted soybeans. It has much lower sugar content than wheat flour yet is high in protein and fiber, making it desirable for people seeking to maintain or reduce body fat.

Many food manufacturers and restaurants are highly interested in using soybean flour in their products, making it the “third flour” after wheat and rice, industry observers say.

Among such companies, Kuriyamabeika Co. in Niigata launched in September a low-calorie snack made from rice, soybean flour and soy pulp for a popular lineup it developed with a Tokyo restaurant run by Tanita Corp., a scale maker involved in improving office cafeteria food.

Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. in October added two new flavors to its SoyCarat soybean flour snack, which has been selling well since its launch in April 2012.

Noting that more than half of the snacks in Japan are made mainly from potatoes, an Otsuka Pharmaceutical official said the signs are encouraging.

“We believe our years of research on soybeans have finally borne fruit and we will continue to expand this business by improving the taste and nutrition balance,” the official said.

Soybean flour has also advanced into household kitchens, with a number of books containing recipes that make use of it published this year.

Sweets ingredients maker Mitake Shokuhin Kogyo Co. in Toda, Saitama Prefecture, said this fall’s online sales of soybean flour have surged about eight times from the same period last year.

The company said it might increase production as many food makers have inquired about it.

Retailer Aeon Co. also began selling soybean flour at its stores a year ago in response to growing demand.

Against this backdrop, Panasonic Corp. rolled out in September a brand-new model for its Home Bakery bread making series that includes a function for baking scones from soybean flour.

It can reduce the amount of sugar by 60 percent compared with wheat flour, according to Panasonic.

“A consumer can cut calories and consume soybean isoflavones (which are said to be good for beauty),” a Panasonic official said. “We will target consumers in their 30s who are said to be highly conscious about beauty and will aim to boost its sales by 20 percent from those from the 2012 model.”