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Food science

Educating health workers and villagers on the dietary uses of soy foods in Madhya Pradesh, India

Manoj Jain


Malnutrition is the single most important cause of child mortality and a major cause of most health problems in the developing world [1]. In India's efforts to improve nutritional health, soybeans, a recently introduced crop, hold a great deal of promise for both the rural and the urban population. Through the US AID programme in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. soybeans were introduced for soy oil production and export of the de-oiled cake as animal feed to the United States. Although the farmers grow and sell soybeans, they are not aware of the numerous foods that can be prepared from them for direct human consumption, and at present there are no programmes to educate the villagers on the preparation and use of such foods.

This paper discusses the nutritional and economic aspects of soy foods and presents the results of a field study on introducing them to the rural population through rural health workers and extension workers to determine whether soybeans could be an adjunct to the Indian diet.


Literature summary

The world production of soybeans has been increasing at a rate of 5.2% per year (average yield, 1,400 kg per hectare). This crop had been used primarily for its oil and the protein meal obtained for animal feed, but recently it has been being used increasingly for human consumption [2]. Research has shown soy foods to be easily preparable, highly nutritious, and inexpensive.

Common soy foods are soy milk, tofu, soy flour, soy yoghurt, and miso, which can be easily prepared at home with conventional utensils. Soy milk is prepared by soaking soybeans overnight in water, adding more water, heating the mixture to the boiling point, and then filtering. Approximately 10 litres can be prepared from one kilogram of dry soybeans [3]. Soy milk has a slight aroma and a yellowish colour. For those who do not care for its flavour, it can be mixed in equal proportions with cow's milk. Tofu is made by causing soy milk to curdle and straining it through cheesecloth. In the Indian diet tofu can be readily used as paneer (curdled cow's milk) with no significant difference in taste or texture. Similarly, soy flour can be substituted for wheat flour and be incorporated into the Indian diet [4, 5].

Nutritional values of soy foods and common Indian foods are compared in table 1. Soy foods have a high protein content and high protein utilization (the percentage of the available protein the body can use), leading to the highest amount of protein gained. The nutritional value of soy milk is compared with that of cow's milk and human breast milk in table 2. Soy milk contains 50% more protein than cow's milk and 214% more than breast milk [6]. Also, studies on the effect of soy milk on malnourished children have found soy milk to be "an effective nutritious food for infants and children suffering from nutritional disorders" [7]. In another study, soy-maize porridge was recommended as an effective and inexpensive treatment for kwashiorkor [8].

TABLE 1. Net protein gained by the body from various foods


in food

Protein utilization
by body (%)

Net protein
gained (%)













Wheat flour





12- 13







Soy flour




a. The percentage of protein gained is obtained by multiplying the percentage of protein in the food by the percentage used by the body.
Source: Ref. 6.

TABLE 2. Nutritional content of 100 g soy milk, cow's milk, and human breast milk (with equal concentrations of water, 88.6%)





Water (g)




Protein (g)




Fat (g)




Carbohydrate (g)




Energy (kcal)




Calcium (mg)




Phosphorus (mg)




Iron (mg)




Source: Ref. 3.

TABLE 3. Nutritional content and cost of various indigenous Indian foods prepared with and without soybeans

  Amount per Serving Protein (g) Fat (g) Carbo-hydrate
Energy (kcal) Estimated cost (paise)
Chappati 4 (100g)          
with 20% soy flour   18.40 5.26 59.70 358 20
control   11 80 1.50 71.2 346 21
Salad 100 g          
soy   11.00 4.8 9.85 211.5 15
control   1.8 7.45 206.0 12
Cutlets 2 (68 g)          
soy   11.60 5.11 11.4 137 23
control   1.21 2.15 12.8 54 15
Weaning food 100 g       I  
soy   14.75 12.10 23.07 259 40
dalia (porridge)   8.30 11.80 17.3 243 40
Chikki (sweet) 100 g          
soy   21.80 9.80 57.95 407 22
ground-nut   13.40 20.4 60.8 475 22
Papad l          
soy   2.80 2.97 3.40 51 2.7
control   2.0 2.21 5.0 51
Badi 50 g          
soy   21.60 9.7 10.4 216 17.8
mung   6.10 0.3 29.9 174 18.2

Source Ref. 9.

Soybeans are economical and easily available in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and other selected regions where they have been introduced. One kilogram of soybeans, which makes 10 litres of soy milk, costs Rs 4 (US$0.40) in the retail market. Hence, soy milk costs Re 0.40 per litre, while cow's milk costs Rs 4 per litre. Similarly, the price of tofu is one-tenth that of curdled cow's milk. Also, during the summer months cow's milk is in short supply, so soy milk can be a good substitute.

Waikar et al. [9] compared the nutritional and economic values and acceptability of indigenous dishes with and without soybeans. Table 3 shows that soybeans significantly increase the protein value at no additional cost. Table 4 shows that chappati made with 20% soy flour was highly acceptable in taste, texture, and appearance. Similarly, numerous other soy recipes were found to be more nutritious, economical, and acceptable to the taste [9].

As pointed out in many studies, a drawback to soybean consumption is the presence of an inhibitor of the enzyme trypsin, which prevents the complete digestion of the proteins present in the soybeans. However, various pretreatment methods such as soaking and boiling, pressure cooking. and roasting can be used to destroy the trypsin inhibitor completely. In the study by Waikar et al., its activity was significantly reduced in the preparation of the soy foods [9].

TABLE 4. Organoleptic scores for chappati prepared with and without soy flour (assessed by five judges)


Standard chappatia

Soy chappatib

Average Range

Average Range





















a. Made with 100% whole-wheat flour.
b. Made with 80% whole-flour and 20% soy flour.
Source: Ref. 9.


The field study

In all, soybeans appeared to be highly nutritious, easily preparable, and very economical, yet several questions remained. How would the villagers accept soy foods? What had been hindering them from using soybeans for food? Are soybeans a practical approach in improving the nutrition status of villagers?

To study these questions, a training programme for rural health and extension workers on the uses of soy products was developed. After their training, the workers carried out demonstrations for the rural population.


The training programme was developed and conducted in conjunction with the Mahatama Gandhi Memorial Medical College in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and a non-profit voluntary agency, Bharatiya Grahmeen Mahila Sangh (BGMS).

In a two-day training programme, health workers were taught soy-foods preparation, soy nutrition, and how to conduct demonstrations in the villages. Health workers and BGMS workers in groups of four prepared soy milk, tofu (soy paneer), soy yoghurt, and other indigenous recipes such as soy bugiya (soaked blended soybeans mixed with gram flour and spices) and halwa (a sweet).

After completing the training, the workers conducted demonstrations in eleven selected villages. In each village demonstrations were given each week at the meeting of the women's organization and at gatherings called together by the workers. The villagers helped to make the soy products and tasted them, and were encouraged to prepare them at home.


Thirty-five extension workers from BGMS and 15 government health workers from Indore District were trained for two days on the uses of soybeans. Over a two-month period, each worker gave an average of nine demonstrations. Each demonstration was attended on the average by 23 women.

The initial response of the villagers to the soy foods was one of surprise. A typical comment was: "We grow the crop and store it in our homes, yet did not know that it could be used for food." They were amazed to see the many foods that could be prepared from soybeans. The qualitative response can best be suggested by the following village worker's report:

This evening from 7 to 9 p.m. I showed them how some dishes could be made from soybeans. We also discussed for two hours.

The women tasted soybean yoghurt and soybean yoghurt balls. They did not know such good preparations could be make from soybeans. I explained to them that first the soy milk was made, and then boiled and cultured. The balls were made by frying in oil. The women ate them and enjoyed them very much.

The women participated with great interest, and said, "Now we will go home and try it." Some women who had come to a previous demonstration came today and said, ''We made soy bugiya at home today and everyone liked it very moch." One woman said her mother-in-law didn't like it as much.

Fifteen women participated in today's meeting.

The women's response to each soy preparation was different. The most readily acceptable items were those that resembled indigenous foods and were easy to prepare, such as roasted and fried soybeans, soy halwa, soy chutney, and vegetables stuffed with okra and tofu. Soy milk was not well accepted because of its beany flavour. When a mixture of 50% soy milk and 50% cow's milk was made and fennel seeds were added, it was more acceptable. The taste of soy yoghurt (with 50% or 100% soy milk) was much more acceptable than that of soy milk. In making soy milk, tofu, and soy yoghurt, a major problem was grinding the soaked soybeans on a grinding stone; the soybeans are slippery, and grinding is time-consuming.

The only reason the villagers had not adopted soybeans in their diet before was that they had no knowledge of their many uses. Prior to the training and demonstrations, not even many workers knew that adding soy flour to wheat would increase the protein content of the bread.


Conclusions and recommendations

Soybeans appear to be a practical contribution to solving India's malnutrition problem. The farmers did not complain that the use of soybeans for food would be an economic burden. The taste was very acceptable, and soybeans were easily available. The villagers only needed to be educated on the many uses of soybeans.

To promote soybeans further, additional programmes are recommended:

Soy milk can be given to schoolchildren to increase school attendance and nutrition.



The funding for this project was provided by Smith-Kline Beckman Medical Perspectives, and by the Program in International Medical Education, Research and Training, Boston University School of Medicine.



  1. Gupta PN Sen. Malnutrition, fertility and family planning. J Ind Med Assoc 1979;72(8):194-99.
  2. Lam Sanchez A. Production and nutritive value of soybeans. Arch Latinoam Nutr 1979;28(2):155-68.
  3. Chen S. Soy milk: a drink from the great earth. American Soybean Association, 1983.
  4. Jain L. Jain M. Tofu as a nutritious and economical substitute for paneer. Presented at conference of Soybean Oil Processors Association, Bhopal. India, Jan 1986.
  5. Jain L, Jain M. Indian soy cuisine: a delicious and nutritious innovation. Ed. SK Karta. Singapore: American Soybean Association, 1987.
  6. Shurtleff W, Aoyogi A. The book of tofu: food for mankind. Ballantine, 1975.
  7. Mathew A, Raut S. Effect of soy milk on the growth of malnourished children admitted to hospital wards. Ind J Nutr Diet 1981; 18: 160-267.
  8. Baku RD et al. Successful use of a soy-maize mixture in the treatment of kwashiorkor. S Afr Med J 1978; 54(17):674-77.
  9. Waikar M. Mehta T et al. Palatability score, nutritional value and trypsin inhibitor activity of some common soybean substituted recipes. JNKVV Res J 1977;1 1(2).

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