WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Snack foods and healthy eating are often incompatible. But thanks to the creative thinking of three Purdue University students, between-meals nibblers can munch their way to stronger hearts and bodies.
Juniors Markelle Grossman of Wolcottville , Ind ., Melody Marshall of Elkhart , Ind ., and Amanda Zeltner of Granger , Ind ., have invented a soybean-based snack cracker they call SoySnaps. The product is the winning entry in the sixth annual Soybean Utilization Contest, sponsored by Purdue and the Indiana Soybean Board. The three inventors will split a $4,500 prize.
The garlic-flavored snacks are baked and resemble Ritz crackers in size and shape. Nutritionally, SoySnaps are packed with soy protein, which studies suggest lowers blood cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of cancer.
Marshall, a chemical engineering major, said she and her teammates got the idea for a soy cracker when a dietitian from the Indiana Soybean Board told them there's no soy snack on the market.
"She said, 'Please make a snack food,'" Marshall said. "We looked at cheesecake, fruit roll-ups with soy protein and, eventually, crackers."
Developing a crispy, tasty cracker was no small feat, said Zeltner, a food process engineering major. The SoySnaps team tried dozens of ingredient combinations and baking variations before hitting on a successful recipe. "It was tough to come up with a cracker without the soy taste," she said. "Getting the right texture was hard, too."
Grossman, a food process engineering and biochemistry major, said she grew up on a farm but knew little about soybeans until the contest. "I know a lot more about soy now," she says. "In fact, my career goal is to work for a corn or soybean processing company and develop new uses for these products in order to raise prices for farmers."
Bernie Tao, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, is the contest administrator. He said the competition gives students practical research and marketing skills.
"The purpose is not only to get new ideas for products but to give students an idea of what it takes to get those ideas to the marketplace," Tao said. "The students can take great pride in what they've done and say, 'I actually invented something.' It becomes a springboard for them after college. We should have some great entrepreneurs from Purdue University in the future."
Previous contests have produced soybean crayons, candles, ski wax, lip balm, fire starter, breakfast cereal and dessert topping. The 1999 winners invented NuSoy Gel, a soy-based gelatin.
Steve Ludwig, executive director of the Indiana Soybean Board, said manufacturers are interested in the products the students invent. "The results of what have come out of this contest over the years have been very important to the soybean industry, and the Indiana soybean checkoff program specifically," he said.
One company is producing the soybean crayons, and another expects to begin large-scale production of soybean candles by this fall. Other companies are seriously eyeing NuSoy Gel. Ludwig said he believes that SoySnaps could follow suit. "I think it has potential. I like the flavor," he said.
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