Cerestar Food & Pharma Specialities Europe, a subsidiary of US firm Cargill, has expanded its portfolio to include new ranges of whole bean (full fat) soy flour, defatted soy flour and textured soy flour. All the products are produced from non-genetically modified soybeans.
Soy, associated with a range of health benefits, is regularly used in a range of dairy and meat-alternative products, but its progress in the bakery industry has been comparatively slow.
Mark Wastijn, group marketing director, said Cerestar's new products held many practical advantages for bakers. "In bakery, soy flour contributes to improved crumb and cell structure, improves water absorption and retention, and functions as a crumb whitener, egg replacement and dough conditioner."
Wastijn said that using soy flour instead of egg could save some bakers around 10 per cent on ingredients costs, while the flour's greater water retention and better stability during baking would improve end-product shelf-life.
The firm has also launched its patented Prolisse soy isolate in Europe, which it says offers clear advantages to a number of producers, including bakers and dairy companies, because of its neutral flavour in products.
"Prolisse is not cheap, but you get a much better product and so far people have been willing to pay," said Wastijn, who added there was increasing interest in all soy products as consumers became more aware of the nutritional and health benefits soy products have to offer.
Consumption of foods containing soy rose by 10 per cent in Western Europe during 2003 and Cerestar said that healthy eating trends across the continent has since accelerated demand.
The UK, Belgium, Germany and Holland have been Europe's fastest growing soy food markets in recent years with the European soy foods sector valued at around £1.4 billion in 2002. In Britain, a survey by domestic firm Haldane Foods found that 30 per cent of people ate soy foods once-a-week and seven per cent more than three times per week.
Global recognition of soy's potential health benefits has also gathered pace. The US Food and Drug Administration has said that soy can reduce the risk of heart disease when included in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
A variety of studies completed last year have also suggested soy may help to reduce the risk and spread of both prostate and breast cancer as well as stall the development of type 2 diabetes.
On a food allergy level, bakers may also use soy to tap into niche markets such as gluten free, while soy flours can also be a key ingredient in developing healthy product ranges such as whole grain products, cereals and nutrition bars.
The EU has not yet set any health claims for soy products, yet the UK's Joint Health Claims Initiative says that 25g of soy protein daily as part of a diet low in saturated fat can help reduce blood cholesterol.
Increasing demand for soy ingredients, as producers look to profit from consumer health trends, could also help to offset soaring soybean prices that threaten to hit ingredients' manufacturers margins.
Prices, already at 15-year highs, rose 20 per cent in February alone, though price volatility is expected to calm after global stocks rose by about three per cent to 115 days of forward cover, according to the US Department of Agriculture.