Soyfoods are becoming commonplace at the grocery store — from soymilk and soy snacks to tofu burgers. But how do you encourage consumers — especially young people — who have never tried soyfoods before to take their first bite?

The South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council created a soyfoods cooking contest for college students to help encourage the use of soy. This year the contest will mark its ninth year and usually includes participation from students at South Dakota State University, the University of South Dakota and Mitchell Technical Institute's Culinary Academy.

“The contest has been a great means of promoting soyfoods and having students develop imaginative ways to use soy in the diet,” says Betty Fyler with the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

Fyler adds that the contest not only exposes students to the attributes of soyfoods, but it also educates the public about soy's health and nutritional aspects. During the cook-off contest, students prepare their recipes for the judges, while on-site chefs prepare the same recipes for the public to sample.

Fyler says that physicians, nutrition and health professionals and others from the community are invited to the event to learn about soyfoods and try the recipes. “Many of these individuals know soyfoods are healthy, but they haven't tasted them in recipes,” she says.

Cash prizes are awarded in the South Dakota contest for winning recipes in different meal categories, including the “most creative use of soy.” Last year's winning recipes included: a banana bread made with soy peanut butter, sweet and sour meatballs made with tofu and a creamy vegetable salad that included soymilk, edamame and roasted soynuts.

After the contest, the winning recipes are promoted through the media which provides another opportunity to get consumers interested in soyfoods. “We try to adapt family favorites slightly with soy ingredients to make them more healthy and nutritious without changing the taste,” Fyler says.

To take soy to even younger consumers, the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council also sponsors special $15 premiums to the state's 4-H youth who compete in the special foods competition and include a soy ingredient in their recipe. The premium is offered for 4-H'ers giving illustrated talks that promote soy as well.

Nine-year-old Kiera Leddy of Milbank, SD, made a soy smoothie for the competition. It was the first time she and her family tried soymilk and they concluded, “It tastes pretty good and it's good for you,” says Kiera's mom Krecia.

The premium money for including soy in the recipe is what piqued the Ledys' interest in trying soy, and Krecia says now that they've tried it they have purchased other soyfoods as well.

Contests and recipe promotions like these helped boost the use of soyfoods over the last several years, says Linda Funk with the Soyfoods Council. The council is continually in touch with national media outlets and chefs, foodservice and retailers to increase the awareness and use of soyfood products through similar recipe promotions.

Funk says much of the success in getting consumers to try soy is by working with chefs to get soyfoods on menus so people are more familiar with them and through clever seasonal themes — such as Christmas cookie recipes featuring soy, or Valentine treats such as chocolate soy brownies.

Adapting a favorite recipe to include soy can be as easy as substituting one-fourth cup of soy flour for every cup of flour in cookies and quick breads, or using one-half peanut butter and one-half soynut butter for recipes calling for peanut butter. “Soymilk is ubiquitous,” Funk adds.

Overall, big strides have been made in bringing soyfood products to the marketplace. She says, “I see a lot more soy being written about in women's magazines, and I see soy products becoming more available because consumers are asking for them.”

A variety of soy recipes can be found at www.thesoyfoodcouncil.com or www.soybean.org. A 150-page soyfoods cookbook is also available through The Soyfoods Council. In addition to recipes from professional chefs to state soybean associations, it describes 14 soyfood ingredients now in the marketplace — from tofu and tempeh to soymilk, flour and dried flakes. Order the cookbook by calling 866-431-9814.

SOY RANKS HEALTHY WITH CONSUMERS

Today's consumers recognize the health benefits of soyfoods, according to a national survey funded by the soybean checkoff. In 2006, the survey revealed:

  • FOUR IN FIVE CONSUMERS perceive soy products as healthy, which is significantly higher than in past years.

  • FIFTY-THREE PERCENT of consumers surveyed agree that soy products can play a role in reducing obesity. Consumers continue to acknowledge soybean oil and olive oil as the two healthiest oils.

  • CONSUMERS ARE TAKING soyfood benefits to heart by incorporating them into their diets. Thirty percent of Americans consume soyfoods or soy beverages once a month or more.

  • FOR THE THIRD YEAR in a row, consumers reported the most familiarity with soymilk, soybean oil, soy veggie burgers and plain tofu.

SOFTER SIDE OF SOY

Soy is also gaining consumer attention by showing its softer side — think t-shirts and teddy bears. That's right, soy-based fabrics are bringing consumers these eco-friendly products.

Soysilk Pals are stuffed animals made from 100% Soysilk brand fiber — an all-natural textile made from soybean byproducts created during the tofu manufacturing process. Known for its soft feel similar to cashmere, Soysilk was first offered as a luxury yarn by South West Trading Company in 2001. Today, company representatives say the Soysilk Pals plush line is the first of many ventures for Soysilk brand products in the consumer market.

“I love the idea that we can create luxurious, earth-friendly products from soy, which is a renewable resource,” says Jonelle Raffino, co-founder of South West Trading Company and designer of the Soysilk Pals line. Three plush critters are available: Tofu Bear, Soynia Bunny and Edamame Bear, with more animals in development. For more information, visit www.tofubear.com or call 866-794-1818.

Eco-friendly soybean fabric is also being used in a new collection of men's briefs and T-shirts from the New York-based company 2(x)ist.

Of the soy collection, which debuted in stores this fall, Jason Scarlatti, design director for 2(x)ist, says, “The whole world seems to be going soy…We wanted to be on the pulse of what's going on.”

The company says the 2(x)ist soy underwear is “slinkily soft” and nicely styled — they sell it with the tagline “More luxurious than cashmere, breathes like cotton.” For more information, visit www.2xist.com.