One of six African bakers who came to the Upper Midwest to learn how to make soy flour taste good in breads, croissants, scones, buns, cookies and doughnuts says the experiment has been a fulfilling and filling experience.
"We've stayed happy and we've stayed full all the time," said Samuel Mukakanya, of Kampala, Uganda.
The group that included marketing experts and consultants spent several days using cooking equipment at the Northern Crops Institute on the campus of North Dakota State University. This week they're meeting officials with a food cooperative in Minnesota that exports most of the soy flour.
The trip is sponsored by soybean associations from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota and the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, or WISHH. The soybean groups are promoting the product as an important tool in the fight against malnutrition because of the amount of protein and essential amino acids it has.
For many African children, said Mamadou Bousso, of Senegal, bread is their only meal of the day.
"We are hoping to create the demand for soy in Africa," said Bousso, a WISHH consultant and group leader.
Breads with soy flour can be less expensive to make. Rachel Carlson, a North Dakota State food nutritionist and an instructor at this week's event, said soy flour absorbs more water than wheat flour, so it makes more loaves of bread.
"More water is a cheap ingredient," Carlson said. "It's also a better product. You get a more tender bread crumb and it has a bleaching effect so it looks whiter."
Cyrus Guluddene, who works for a food processing company in Uganda, said African bakers have resisted the use of soy flour, but now some of the bigger bakeries are "coming on board" because soy bread has a longer shelf life.
"Extra loaves mean extra profit. Extra profit means extra income. Extra income means more development of the bakery and country as well," Guluddene said.
The trick is getting the products to have an acceptable taste in a country that is not used to eating soy and does not grow large quantities of soybeans. Mark Weber, director of the Northern Crops Institute, joked about the weight he gained from sampling the soy products and said they could have come from a local bakery.
"You can't tell the difference," Weber said.
Most soybeans in the United States are grown in the Upper Midwest, with Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota in the top 10 for production. The African group also toured an elevator and farm in southeastern North Dakota, where Bousso said they were amazed by the size of agriculture operations.
"In Africa, farmers are very poor," Bousso said. "Here the farmers are controlling the economy and feeding the people."