A team of international food science students is revolutionizing how soy is sustainably consumed around the world
Throughout Asia, okara is a household name. It can be prepared as a side dish, a tempeh starter and even as ice cream. In the United States, however, okara’s story is one of mistaken identity: for decades, soy and tofu processing plants have been inadvertently tossing this key soy by-product.
A UC Davis team of five international undergraduate students is determined to disrupt this narrative. Their work in bringing okara’s real story and product potential to light earned them a spot in the finals at the 29th Annual Institute of Food Technologists Student Association (IFTSA) Product Development Competition in June 2019.
Hailing from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan, team members Vy Phung ’19, Jonathan Su ’15, Jeremy Chuardy ’20, Gary Adrian ’19, and Siriyakorn Chantieng ’19 (food science and technology majors from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) have engineered an innovative food using okara—from concept stage through production and marketing— just like a commercial product development team would.
The result: Okaranchi Crackers, a nutrient-packed cracker made from okara, the soy pulp by-product of soybean processing.
The IFTSA competition has provided a chance for the food science majors to combine their academic expertise and diverse Asian heritages to address the very real issue of food shortage around the world.
“As team members from different Asian backgrounds and upbringings, the most challenging part has actually been developing this product for a U.S. market,” said team lead Phung. “But it’s exciting to work with the people on my team because I get to learn about the way my friends from different countries think. They’re all very passionate, talented people.”
Okaranchi Crackers’ full-circle sustainability garnered the team a third-place win at the annual Big Ideas@Berkeley competition in May 2019, which challenges students from the 10 UC campuses and five USAID Higher Education Solutions Network schools to take on real-world social and environmental challenges.
While the team is well versed in the myriad ways okara is nutritionally reused back in their respective homelands, very few people in the U.S. know that the soybean by-product is packed with nutritional content. Because of this, it’s often dumped into landfills, where its greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming.
“Through this project, we are trying to make it into something that Americans can regularly consume, owing to how healthy it is and how good the crackers taste,” said Su.