Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Developing low-cost soy protein concentrates for expanding soy protein utilization: a spotlight on Soybean 360 speaker Dr. Keshun Liu

Meet Dr. Liu 

Soybean 360 is an international symposium organized by the Soybean Innovation Lab in partnership with AOCS. The symposium's vision is to share better practices and innovations with processors in Sub Saharan Africa and elsewhere, for efficient processing of food in the soybean value chain that meet DINES criteria: Delicious, Inexpensive, Nutritious, Environmentally and culturally sustainable, and Safe. Processors for both human and animal foods can benefit from the research and industry innovations, and networking opportunities available in this symposium. The symposium will occur November 30–December 11 from 8-11 a.m. CST (UTC-06/Chicago, USA). Registration is free for all, including nonmembers.

Leading up to the symposium, AOCS is spotlighting AOCS members participating in the event. This week we are featuring Dr. Keshun Liu, an AOCS member since 1992; in that time, he has been involved with the Protein and Co-Products Division as a newsletter editor, treasurer, vice chair and chairperson. 

Read on to learn more about Dr. Liu's Soybean 360 presentation, the biggest problem he encountered in his most recent project, and how AOCS has contributed to his career.

Dr. Liu's presentation, "Developing low-cost soy protein concentrates for expanding soy protein utilization," will be part of the session Innovations in Plant Protein Technology on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.

Meet Dr. Liu

Keshun Liu, Ph.D. is a Research Chemist with the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS).  Born in rural China, he received his M.S and Ph.D. degrees in Food Science from Michigan State University (USA) in 1986 and 1989, respectively, and did post-doctoral work at Coca-Cola Co. and the University of Georgia (USA) thereafter.  Prior to joining USDA-ARS in 2005, he was employed at Monsanto Co. and the University of Missouri.  Dr. Liu’s expertise in chemistry, processing and value-added utilization of soybeans has spanned over 35 years of his research career at academic institutions, private industry and governmental agency.  Over the years, Dr. Liu has authored or co-authored 137 publications, co-organized six international conferences, organized/co-organized 52 symposia for scientific meetings, and gave 110 technical presentations to domestic and international audiences. In addition, he has written, edited or co-edited four English reference books, including two on soybeans: Soybeans as functional foods and ingredients (AOCS Press, 2005) and Soybeans chemistry, technology and utilization (Chapman & Hall, 1997).  For his scientific achievements and contributions, Dr. Liu has received several prestigious awards, including the American Oil Chemists Society (AOCS) Award of Merit (2010), AOCS Fellow (2011), Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Fellow (2014), and AOCS Protein & Co-Products Division Lifetime Achievement Award (2020).

1) What discoveries from your previous research do you plan to discuss at Soybean 360?

KL:  A few years ago, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, my colleagues and I worked on developing the low-cost soybean protein concentrates to expand soybean protein utilization. The work was partially sponsored by Indiana Soybean Alliance. At Soybean 360, I plan to discuss some results of this work, with emphasis on its relevance and food applications in the Sub-Saharan African region.

2) What is the significance of the research you plan to discuss at Soybean 360, either for future research routes or for real-world applications?

KL: Soybeans are used as food in many ways. Traditional soyfoods developed in the Far East are nutritious and delicious but unfortunately appeals less to the rest of the world.  Consequently, most of the annual global production (estimated at 360 million metric tons for 2020) is crushed and solvent-extracted into oil and defatted meal. The latter can be processed into soy flour, protein concentrate and protein isolate. These soy protein ingredients can then be incorporated into various local foods to suit broad tastes. 

In the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region, soybeans are also mechanically processed into oil and soy cake.  Although soy flour made from defatted soy meal or soy cake is least processed, its high content of oligosaccharides and phytate and characteristic beany flavor limit inclusion levels.  Soybean oligosaccharides cause flatulence while phytate reduces mineral absorption.  In contrast, soy protein concentrate (SPC) is better suited for protein enrichment and nutritional improvement in foods, since additional processing increases its protein content and reduces antinutrients and beany flavor.  Yet, there are two major constraints limiting SPC use in SSA: high production costs associated with current processing methods and limited availability. 

Therefore, I strongly believe that, with some modification, the method we developed for producing low-cost SPC is particularly suited in the SSA region.  Our strategies included choosing low-cost raw materials available in SSA (such as partially defatted soy cake), using alternative and environment-friendly solvents and employing low-cost drying methods.  Although, compared with the traditional SPC, the low-cost SPC is less functional and slightly lower in protein content, it is still superior over soy flour in terms of increased protein content, reduced oligosaccharide and phytate contents and less of a beany flavor.  More importantly, the low-cost SPC can be used in various local foods for protein enrichments, including but not limited to breakfast cereals, bakery products, patties, meatballs, and sausages, etc. Hopefully, it meets the DINES criteria for the SSA region: delicious, inexpensive, nutritious, environmentally and culturally sustainable and safe.   

3) Describe the biggest problem you encountered and solved during your most recent project? 

KL: My most recent research project was to improve assay methods for measuring trypsin inhibitor activity in soybeans and other products, carry out an international collaborative study and work with Dr. Scott Bloomer, Director of Technical Service, and his AOCS Method Committee to replace the current AOCS Ba 12-75 with the new proposed method, Ba 12a-20.  Toward the end of the project, we arrived at our biggest problem: at present, three units have commonly been used for expressing measured results: trypsin unit inhibited (an arbitrary unit)/mg sample, mg trypsin inhibited/g sample, and mg trypsin inhibitors/g sample. This makes comparing results among studies difficult and in some cases impossible. This problem has bothered many analysts for many years.  So, during the pandemic, my USDA lab has been very busy and we eventually were able to solve the problem.  A new manuscript entitled “Trypsin inhibitor assay: expressing, calculating and standardizing inhibitor activity in absolute amounts of trypsin or trypsin inhibitors” was submitted to the Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society in early September. It is currently under review.

4) How did you get involved with AOCS? 

KL: I first joined AOCS in 1992 after I met Dr. Frank Ortheofer, a well-known oil chemist.  Soon after joining, I met many AOCS colleagues, who were leaders of many AOCS Divisions at that time, including Drs. Tim Mounts (sadly who died a few years later), Gary List, John Power, Fred Shih, Peter Wong, Richard Wilson, Mark Matlock, Larry Johnson, Deland Myers and Fereidoon Shahidi, to name a few. They all encouraged me to get involved.  So, I started serving the AOCS Protein and Co-Products Division as a newsletter editor.  I then moved on to serve as a member-at-large, treasurer, vice chair and all the way up to the Division chairperson.  

5) How has AOCS contributed to the advancement of your research?

KL: Over the years, my membership and volunteer experiences at AOCS have enhanced my knowledge, broadened my connections and contributed to my research achievements in many ways. By attending AOCS annual meetings and interacting with AOCS colleagues, I learn what peers are doing on oilseeds and protein products relating to my research. This in turn helps me identify new research areas and use the most up-to-date research tools. The support and encouragement I have received from AOCS colleagues over the years have also been very important. Furthermore, the achievement awards I have received over the years, including the AOCS Award of Merit, AOCS Fellow Award, and the most recent award, the Proteins and Co-Products Division Lifetime Achievement Award, have brought much-deserved recognition to my employer, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, for supporting scientists’ success in their areas of interest.

6) What excites you most about your work?

KL:  In one case, you have an idea or hypothesis, then your lab observation proves it.  In another case, your research observation does not confirm what you have anticipated or hypothesized.  Yet, your unexpected result turns out to be a new finding.   

7) What do you like to do when you are not in the lab or presenting your work?

KL: At work, I read journal articles, review manuscripts, draft new manuscripts, revise manuscripts, interact with my technician and write research grant proposals, etc. When off work, I grow and care for fruits and vegetables in my backyard garden, jog along my neighborhood streets, watch the news, read magazines, etc.

Registration for the symposium is free.

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