Washington, Mar 7 : Soy allergies may become an irritation of the past thanks to a new research at the University of Illinois, which shows that fermenting soy dramatically reduces its potential allergenicity.
The researchers also showed that the fermentation increases the number of essential amino acids in soy products, making them a healthy and a safe choice for consumers.
Soy is a source of high-quality protein, oil, B vitamins, fiber, and essential fatty acids, and it also contains phytochemicals that may help prevent chronic diseases, including heart disease, some cancers, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
"When we fermented soy seeds, flour, or meal by introducing certain microorganisms, inmmunoreactivity was significantly reduced-by as much as 99 percent. This shows that we have the potential of developing nutritious, hypoallergenic soy products," said Elvira de Mejia, a U of I associate professor of food science and human nutrition.
The scientist achieved these results when de Mejia challenged the blood plasma of persons allergic to soy with protein extracts from both fermented and unfermented soy products. Plasma samples were obtained from the World Health Organization.
"Why do we see this reduced immunoreactivity? During the fermentation process, proteins are broken down into very small pieces, pieces that can't be identified by the antibodies that produce the allergic reaction," de Mejia said.
Because soy is used as in ingredient in many food products, de Mejia said that a technique that can eliminate its allergenicity is widely sought.
In the study, soy was subjected to both solid and liquid fermentation by exposing samples to a number of microorganisms, including bacteria, molds, and yeast.
L. plantarum-fermented soy flour showed the highest reduction in immunoreactivity, 96 to 99 percent, depending upon the sensitivity of the human plasma, the scientist said.
"Our next step will be to optimize the fermentation conditions to produce zero-tolerance allergens," de Mejia said.
De Mejia noted that fermentation had also improved the essential amino acid composition in the soy products and produced new peptides that may be beneficial.
The study is published in both Food Chemistry and the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.