Find out how RP transforms okara into a higher-value product suitable for consumption and commercial usage.

The urgency of food sustainability and security has intensified with increasing population levels and climate change. Singapore, recognised as a leading hub and a dynamic testing ground for food technology innovation, consistently explores fresh avenues for research in response to these challenges.

The Importance of Food Technology in Singapore

Up to now, Singapore’s diverse food technology start-ups have pioneered innovations in alternative proteins and techniques for valorising food waste. Government funding initiatives, such as the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme, have also played a significant role in bolstering the industry.

Dr Heng Kiang Soon, a nutritionist, researcher, and lecturer at RP School of Applied Science, has been making strides in addressing food waste in Singapore's soy industries. He shares valuable insights into his research.

The Opportunity: Generation of Food Waste in Soy Industries

In Singapore, approximately 30 tonnes of soya pulp, also known as okara, is generated daily during the production of soymilk and tofu. The bulk of this byproduct is either discarded or used as animal feed. 

While visiting a soymilk manufacturing facility, Dr Heng became aware of a significant issue when soy producers enquired about the feasibility of transforming okara into an extra source of income, rather than investing resources in its disposal.

As he pondered the characteristics of okara, a solution began to form in his mind.

“I hesitate to call okara food waste. It comes from soybeans and is too high in fibre, so humans cannot tolerate it. But once this fibre is broken down, we can better tolerate it,” Dr Heng said.

“We can leverage food technology to transform okara into a higher-value product suitable for both food consumption and agricultural purposes,” he concluded.

The Solution: Upcycling Okara as a Biostimulant

Dr Heng believes that okara has the potential to address challenges in urban farming, such as a restricted availability of nutrient solutions and fertilisers for hydroponic cultivation. 

Consequently, he and his team began the development of okara as a biostimulant — a substance designed to enhance the growth and disease resistance of seeds or plants when applied.


Example of a biostimulant experiment with cai xin

Dr Heng shared that the innovation process spanned nearly a year. During the process, they encountered challenges, including the use of food-grade ingredients to break down and purify okara fibres, ensuring the eventual products were safe for consumption. 

With the successful implementation of the world’s first okara biostimulant, which Dr Heng calls the “wine of plants”, the team has since used it on vegetables such as cai xin, bak choy, nai bai, komatsuna, and kailan in various experiments.

The experimental outcomes revealed a 15 – 50% surge in crop yield for the plants. Trials on strawberries also showed that the biostimulant was effective in preventing and managing powdery mildew diseases.


Example of a biostimulant experiment to treat powdery mildew in strawberries

Dr Heng observed that these findings suggest that okara biostimulants could play a significant role in promoting sustainability and enhancing food security in Singapore.

“Okara biostimulant closes the food waste loop. It returns okara, once a food waste, back to food production through urban farming,” he explained.

Besides cost reduction, another advantage of the biostimulant is decreased reliance on harmful chemical pesticides by increasing a plant’s natural resistance. This fosters a more eco-friendly and sustainable approach to farming, and is particularly beneficial for urban farmers who require effective pest-control methods.

Presently, the intellectual property rights for the okara biostimulant have been licensed to SoiLabs, a Singapore food technology company. SoiLabs is conducting further trials on local and overseas farms to explore the potential widespread application of the biostimulant.

Developing a Mindset to Innovate

When asked about tips on how to succeed in the food technology industry, Dr Heng shared that there are three important things new researchers have to keep in mind:

1. Think out of the box
2. Be patient
3. Be curious about nature

He emphasised the importance of learning from one’s own failures, as well as those of others. By reading previous studies and constantly exploring all the alternatives through trial and error, one can eventually find a solution to benefit mankind.

“Don’t be afraid to try out new ideas; there will always be a key to unlock the problems,” he shared.


Keen to explore the latest developments in agricultural technology and food science?

Check out the CET Agri-Food Tech for Start-Ups programme and the Part-time Diploma in Applied Science (Nutrition and Food Science).
Find out more

Related Articles

Got a minute to spare? Check out these other articles below! 

Growing Sustainably with Fogo Fungi

RP and Fogo Fungi bring innovation to the agri-food tech industry in pursuit of sustainable development.
Learn More

Driving Sustainability in Food Manufacturing

This year’s food sustainability seminar provides an avenue for impactful industry discussions and exhibits.
Learn More

Talent Advancement Programme Develops and Nurtures Young Minds

First-of-its-kind programme offers a comprehensive pathway combining education, on-the-job training, and leadership development for RP School of Hospitality students.
Learn More


Long-standing Holywell Foundation Scholarship Inspires and Uplifts 

The Holywell Foundation funds scholarship and bursary awards, touching the lives of RP students since 2016.
Learn More


Landmark MOU Elevates Learning for Students with Special Needs

RP partners Cerebral Palsy Alliance of Singapore School in championing inclusivity through meaningful, holistic programmes for youth with disabilities.
Learn More


Outreach Efforts Touch Lives at Kuntum Batam Little Angel

RP students brought smiles to young learners and gained valuable insights from this overseas service-learning trip.
Learn More