Catering for the growing demand for soya milk is not a simple act of just switching milks in hot beverages, reports Ian Boughton.
Soya milk is no longer a fad for picky eaters, but a menu choice that has to be presented to a significant number of customers. Statistics suggest that 15% of families use soya in some form and that 11% use soya milk.
As very few consumers are lactose-intolerant, many choose soya for ethical as much as health reasons. One animal-welfare organisation calls soya milk the "cruelty-free milk" and a published report claims it is unnatural and dangerous for humans to consume cows' milk.
Although big brands are taking this growing market seriously, they also know that there are question marks over the taste of soya, which is why caterers should not simply swap milks in hot beverages. Tetley has just come up with a new tea, blended specifically to work with soya milk.
"Consumers who use soya milk in their normal tea say it tastes different, it leaves a dry aftertaste, and it's too creamy," says Tetley brand manager Peter Haigh.
"Soya milk does have a darker appearance than dairy milk, and because many consumers use colour as a strength guide, there is a tendency to over-milk with it, which explains the point about the creamy taste, and which ultimately creates a different mouthfeel which consumers don't like.
"Scientifically, the proteins in soya react with the polyphenols in tea in such a way as to exaggerate the bitter qualities of the tea, which customers don't like. So, our R&D team challenged our tea buyers and blenders to find a tea that delivered the taste of Tetley with soya milk - the result was created from a blend of Kenyan teas."
The Alpro soya company recently worked with Gwilym Davies, the 2009 world barista champion, to investigate the effects of soya milk in coffee, including the charge that coffee curdles the milk. "It is known on occasion," says Michael Lovitt, Alpro's product manager. "It tends to happen when soya milk is poured directly into scalding hot water. The problem is more apparent in coffee, where some speciality coffee operators use a light, fruitier roast, and the natural acidity of this can react. To counteract this, the operator can add a small amount of hot water to the cup before adding the espresso, to reduce the acidity. Generally, if the soya milk has not been excessively steamed to a high temperature, it works perfectly well."
Soya, he adds, also has an entirely different sweetness. "There are sweetened and unsweetened soya milks. We generally recommend the sweetened, for which we use an apple concentrate, as it reacts better with tea and coffee. Consumers find they often don't need to add sugar."
The other caveat about soya milk is the concern that it may come from a genetically-modified crop. "A lot of soya is GM but at Alpro we will never use GM soya beans - we pay a significant premium and adopt a strict traceability system to ensure this does not occur."
Dual-milk facilities are now sensible options on automatic machines, says Paul Hopkins, managing director at Melitta UK. He suggests that the "staggering" amount of hidden calories found in some coffee menus is partly due to the sheer size of modern milky coffees and partly to the type of milk used. As 100ml of whole milk has 66 calories and 4g of fat, and the same measure of soya milk has 42 calories and 2g of fat, it is reasonable to expect that users will look for the choice.
This, he says, is why Melitta's automatic coffee machines have a dual milk supply, making it easier to offer the choice. More notably, he adds, just as American catering outlets now have to show the nutritional content of their menu items, a similar scheme may follow in the UK.
It is also possible to be intolerant to soya milk - an American allergy organisation says it is one of the most common food allergies - but it is claimed that most sufferers can tolerate moderate amounts. This may explain the migration of some consumers from cows' milk to soya and then on to goats' milk, noted by Henry Elsby, national accounts manager for the Delamere Dairy.
Soya milk is produced by soaking dry soya beans and grinding them with water. It contains about the same proportion of protein as cows' milk, far less saturated fat and no cholesterol. It is a source of vitamin E and is safe for people with lactose intolerance.
The first written record of it appears in a Chinese cookery book dated 82AD. Although most people refer to it as "soya milk", EC labelling regulations prefer "soya alternative to dairy milk". The overall "dairy-free" market is reported to be worth more than £100m a year.
[Delamere ](http://www.delameredairy.co.uk)01565 750528
[Melitta](http://www.melittasystemservice.de) 01628 829888
[Tetley 0845 606 6328