COLUMBUS, Ohio - A team of scientists at The Ohio State University has somethin' in the oven: the first soy bread that's both good for your heart and easy on the taste buds, too.
"This is the first baked good that can legitimately carry the FDA claim that consuming it is associated with a lower risk of heart disease," says Dr. Yael Vodovotz, an assistant professor of food science. "It's a big deal."
It's an even bigger deal that people actually like the bread.
"The problem with soy products is that they just don't taste good to a lot of people," says Vodovotz. "They sometimes have that beany flavor."
The world is full of soy products-everything from soy milk and soy cookies to soy candles and crayons, but nothing is as ubiquitous as bread. For Vodovotz, it became the Holy Grail - to develop an affordable product that could be happily consumed every day, last a long time, and most importantly, taste good. Bingo. Bread.
Vodovotz says the bread is a little dense and chewy, and looks very much like white bread. Just to get the numbers straight, the FDA says in order to get the heart-healthy benefits of soy, consumers have to eat at least 25 grams of soy protein daily. For a soy product to meet this claim, a serving needs to provide 6.25 grams of soy protein, as well as be low in fat, low in saturated fat, and low in cholesterol. Vodovotz says their soy bread meets all of those requirements.
She and one of her students, Cory Ballard, a food scientist who is also a baker by trade, have been working on the secret soy bread recipe for months. They've field tested it at local grocery stores, and are currently negotiating an agreement to license the product to a bakery in Cleveland. It's a family-owned business that bakes and markets to grocery stores in four states. It could be just the beginning. Because soy has shown demonstrable success in preventing some kinds of cancers, "everyone wants to use it," says Vodovotz.
That everyone includes Dr. Steven Schwartz, a member of Cancer Prevention and Control Program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC), who was recently awarded a $1.27 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to design foods that contain both soy and tomatoes. He will be joined in the effort by Vodovotz, Dr. Josh Bomser, assistant professor of food science and technology, Dr. Steven Clinton in the OSUCCC, Dr. Mark Failla, professor of human nutrition, and others from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Soy is a potential cancer fighter because it contains certain ingredients called isoflavones and a variety of other phytochemicals. Isoflavones are a class of plant-based chemicals that are used by the plant as hormones to ward off pests such as insects. There is some evidence that isoflavones may mimic human estrogen. Tomatoes, on the other hand, contain substantial amounts of lycopene, which has been shown to help prevent prostate cancer. The question is, does combining them make sense?
"People haven't really looked at combinations of functional foods," says Bomser. "We know that the Asian diet is full of soy, but it really hasn't caught on here. We're interested in putting soy in tomato sauce or combining them in other soups, juices, or sauces that are already part of the Western diet," he adds. So how about a tomato-soy bread? Maybe, says Schwartz.
His colleagues in the OSUCCC are already experimenting with a diet rich in soy and tomatoes as a possible way to slow the growth of existing prostate cancers.
It's multidisciplinary magic. And there is sure to be more to come. The research team has such varied and rich experience, there's no telling to what they'll cook up next.
Vodovotz, for example, was lured to Ohio State from the NASA Johnson Space Center, where she worked on creating foods for astronauts. With a background like that, shelf life takes on a whole new meaning. She has actually written a book on the staling of bread, and in one breath moves from talking about stale bread to tortillas in space.
"Now there's a real story," she says.
OK, We'll bite.