What is the all-purpose vegetable that has been becoming more and more popular in the United States for everything from the main course to dessert and beverages? Here’s a hint: If you are lactose-intolerant or a vegetarian or vegan you probably have the answer on the tip of your tongue. The regal soybean is the answer. United States’ soy-based food sales have risen from $1 billion in 1996 to nearly $5 billion annually in 2010, says the Soy Food Association of North America.
Tofu, the cheese-like food made from curdled soy milk; edamame, those tender soybeans in the shell; and plain or flavored soy milk and other soy products are filling shelves in grocery stores. And some fast-food restaurants are even selling veggie burgers made with soy protein.
The reason is that soy is a popular low-fat, very high-protein substitute for meats, as well as an alternative to milk. So I wasn’t surprised to see that there is even more good news about these special beans.
Soybeans contain a cancer-fighting substance called Bowman-Birk Protease Inhibitor (BBI). BBIhas already shown promise for preventing certain forms of cancer in clinical trials. And low cancer mortality rates in Japan might be linked to BBI from the large amounts of soybeans in traditional Japanese diets. (People in Japan eat about 1 million metric ton of soybeans a year.)
To date, the only way to pull out this substance, has been through a complicated, time-consuming process. The current method also involves harsh chemicals, so Hari B. Krishnan and colleagues decided to see if there might be a greener and more environmentally friendly way of obtaining the cancer-fighter.
The scientists, reporting in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, say they have discovered that simply soaking soybeans in warm water (122 degrees Fahrenheit) dramatically speeds up and simplifies the process of extracting BBI, which the soybeans naturally release into the surrounding water. They also found that BBI significantly blocks the spread of breast cancer cells in a laboratory dish.