From unwanted okara to nutritious drink

27 August 2018 | Research
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The okara drink, made using a patented zero-waste approach, contains live probiotics, dietary fibre, free isoflavones and amino acids
that improve gut-health

Two food scientists from NUS Science have changed the fate of okara — the by-product from tofu-making which is usually discarded — by turning it into a tasty beverage packed with live probiotics, dietary fibre, free isoflavones and amino acids, all of which help to improve gut health. Their patented recipe involves a unique combination of enzymes, probiotics and yeast, using a zero-waste process. 

The new drink is the brainchild of Vong Weng Chan, a PhD student from the Faculty’s Food Science and Technology Programme (FST), who first learned about fermentation from her grandparents when she was young. “The fermentation process was like magic to me — it transforms bland food into something delicious,” she shared. 

While working on her undergraduate project which involved integrating soy milk into different food products, Weng Chan came to know that huge amounts of okara are discarded daily. “It occurred to me that fermentation can be one good way to convert unwanted okara into something that is nutritious and tasty,” she explained. This became the focus of her doctoral research. 

Under the guidance of Associate Professor Liu Shao Quan from NUS FST, Weng Chan experimented with different yeasts, enzymes and probiotic strains. It took her a year to come up with an ideal recipe that converts okara into a beverage that is tasty, nutritious and contains gut-friendly nutrients. The production process takes about one-and-a-half days. 

In recent years, the food and beverage industry has been intensifying efforts to develop products that appeal to consumers who are increasingly health conscious. Our new product offers soy food manufacturers a viable solution to reduce waste, and also enables them to provide a healthy and eco-friendly beverage for their customers. 

Unlike commercially available probiotic drinks which are mainly dairy-based and require refrigeration to maintain their level of live probiotics, the new okara-based beverage can be stored at room temperature for up to six weeks and still retain high counts of live probiotics to better deliver health effects.

Assoc Prof Liu explained, “The secret lies in our unique combination of enzymes, probiotics and yeast that work together to make okara less gritty and give it a fruity aroma while keeping the probiotics alive. Our final product offers a nutritious, non-dairy alternative that is eco-friendly.”

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Weng Chan (left) and Assoc Prof Liu have filed a patent for their recipe that turns okara into a nutritious beverage

“In recent years, the food and beverage industry has been intensifying efforts to develop products that appeal to consumers who are increasingly health conscious. Our new product offers soy food manufacturers a viable solution to reduce waste, and also enables them to provide a healthy and eco-friendly beverage for their customers,” Assoc Prof Liu added.  

The NUS researchers are further refining their recipe using different enzymes and microorganisms. They are also seeking opportunities to collaborate with industry partners to commercialise their invention. 

See press release.