What is the purpose of soy in processed foods
March 7, 2013 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Soy is listed as an ingredient in many processed foods that you might not expect to contain it (major name brands of canned tuna, for example). What is the purpose of soy in these foods? It is listed as an ingredient in SO many foods, it makes you wonder.
posted by mintchip to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is it tuna in oil? If so, it's just soybean oil.

It gets used a lot because its a cheap, almost flavorless protein and an inexpensive vegetable oil.
posted by empath at 4:53 PM on March 7, 2013

Lecithin as a cheap(er) emulsifier.
posted by holgate at 4:57 PM on March 7, 2013

Soy is one of the major crops grown in the world because soy produces a lot of protein and quite a bit of oil (both of which are things we value to some degree) very cheaply in terms of land and farming inputs. We use a lot for animal feed and so there is a commodity market and soy products are consequently widely available and cheap. This is very much oversimplified.

So, if you want cheap vegetable protien, you use soy, and if you want cheap oil, soy is a good option.

Your tuna contains soy oil.
posted by ssg at 4:58 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Soy lethicin is an emulsifier that helps oil and water stay combined in processed products and not separate. It improves the texture of many foods and helps with consistency for mechanical processing. The article I linked to there covers it pretty well.

For whatever reason, there are few naturally occurring emulsifiers so everyone tends to use soy lethicin.
posted by GuyZero at 4:58 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Wikipedia page lists a number of uses for soy roducts in food. Additionally, soy protein can be hydrolyzed to provide a source of glutamate for flavor enhancement (similar to the role MSG plays in processed foods). Basically soybeans are versatile, cheap, and widely available, so they end up in lots of places.
posted by TedW at 4:59 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

The cheap can of "Chicken of the Sea light tuna in water" in my pantry lists as an ingredient "vegetable broth (contains soy)". It's how they make it palatable. I still won't eat it because the texture is terrible.

In a lot of other things, it's as people have said: soybean oil, soy lecithin for emulsification, or hydrolyzed soy protein for flavor (as a substitute for MSG).
posted by WasabiFlux at 5:46 PM on March 7, 2013

It's also a relatively cheap filler and texturizer. Cheap chicken nuggets and patties (and tons of other pre-processed meat products) have a significant amount in it. If you think about tofu's consistency, you can imagine how it would make a lot of products have a nicer texture.

Soy is also a relatively common allergen, so manufacturers want to make double dog sure they disclose any possible source of soy adulteration.
posted by gjc at 7:37 PM on March 7, 2013

I believe that in the case of canned tuna that the fish meat and fish oil can be sold for more separately than together. However the fish won't taste like anything without oil, so it's replaced with a cheap, neutral substitute. As mentioned above, soy is a good choice.
posted by Ookseer at 8:30 PM on March 7, 2013

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