Walton's Mitchell wins Project SOY by creating 5th Bean liqueur
BY DENNY SCOTT
Walton-area man and University of Guelph student Sean Mitchell is part of a three-person team looking to change the landscape of cream-based liqueur.
Mitchell, alongside fellow students Timothy Shuh and Mitchell Rice, won the Project SOY (Soybean Opportunities for Youth) undergraduate category for their soybean-based cream liqueur, 5th Bean.
Project SOY is an annual contest that tasks students with developing new products and marketing opportunities using soybeans. Earlier this month, at the annual awards ceremony, Mitchell was among 27 students from his university’s Guelph and Ridgetown campuses showing off 10 soy-based projects.
With the win, the trio received $2,500 which Mitchell said they plan on re-investing into their business, specifically looking at legal advice for proceeding with the product and initial capital costs.
Mitchell, in an interview with The Citizen, explained that he and his project partners have been working for the past several months on the soy cream liqueur.
The three met at their supervisor’s suggestion, and soon realized that, as far as the cream liqueur field is concerned, there isn’t a significant amount of lactose-free, gluten-free offerings like the product they would eventually produce.
In an early e-mail to The Citizen, Mitchell explained that 5th Bean is a unique product because, in its creation, it uses 72 per cent less water, half the land and produces 90 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional bovine cream liquors.
Mitchell said that, while he and his project partners wanted to create a soy-based liqueur, their real goal “is to create a new market for Ontario soybeans, reduce waste in the tofu industry through innovation, source our materials and create our product locally, and produce a carbon-neutral project.”
Each 750-millilitre bottle of 5th Bean is produced with 28 kilograms of soybeans, going a long way to creating that market. Of those 28 kilograms, the largest share comes from the creation of soy milk, where 22.5 kilograms of soybeans produces 278 millilitres of soy milk. The other 5.9 kilograms produces 195 millilitres of 65 per cent ABV tofu whey alcohol.
The waste from the creation of tofu, called tofu whey, is a soy-based project that is the foundation of the 5th Bean liqueur, Mitchell said.
The original idea for 5th Bean came when Mitchell and his cohorts saw the need for the product, but were helped along by information from the University of Singapore, where a wine is being made from tofu whey.
“We thought that was cool,” he said. “However, we didn’t think it would sell or create the demand we were looking for.”
Mitchell, Shuh and Rice looked to the dairy alternative market for inspiration, knowing that there had been an influx in innovation and demand in that sector over the past several years, and then came up with the idea to make their product.
From there, Mitchell, keenly aware of the craft distillery and beer renaissance occurring in Ontario thanks to the prevalence of both in his home county, was quick to say there could be a future for 5th Bean.
The process for creating the product involves soybeans at nearly every level, Mitchell said.
Tofu is made from soybeans, which are ground with water, and, through the addition of other products, eventually creates the bricks that resemble the final customer product. The liquid, or whey, that is removed from those bricks is where 5th Bean starts.
Tofu whey naturally has high sugars, making it a perfect starting point for fermentation, alongside some special yeast that allows the highest conversion of those sugars to alcohol.
From there, the fermented whey is distilled to purify its alcohol content, after which, emulsifiers and flavouring are introduced, which lead to the creation of the soy liqueur. The first flavour the project partners have used is Irish cream.
Aside from the growing market, the environmental benefits and the unique product, 5th Bean also benefits from being something that can be produced locally, Mitchell said.
“The tofu whey we used is from Mississauga and soybeans are widely available,” he said.
While the product can’t yet be sold legally, as there are hurdles for the team to overcome before that’s possible, Mitchell said that those who have tried it have had nothing but good things to say.
While the challenge of selling 5th Bean lies ahead of the team, Mitchell said they are confident because of not only the support they have, but also because they have overcome other challenges in the production of the liqueur.
“The two biggest challenges we faced in this endeavour have been unanticipated reactions during fermentation and sourcing our ingredients on a small scale.”
While the project team has consisted of three, Mitchell was quick to say that they received significant support from professionals.
First and foremost, Mitchell said, his professor, Mike Von Massow helped with advice and guidance.
The group also extended thanks to Ying Ying Soy Foods of Mississauga, which offered time with and access to their tofu whey; Escarpment Laboratories of Guelph and Prof. George van der Merwe who helped Mitchell and his cohorts identify the strain of yeast they needed and Murphy’s Law distillery in Elmira, which helped design a still to refine the alcohol and make sure the product was safe for consumption.
Mitchell also touched on the unique name for the product, which ties back to soybean farming. He explained that a traditional way of valuing a soybean crop was to look at the number of beans per pod. Three-bean pods are desirable, while four-bean pods are notable.
“Pods creating five beans are almost unheard of,” Mitchell said. “When creating Fifth Bean, we strove to produce cream liqueur equally unusual in its high quality.”
As for the future, Mitchell said he and his partners hope to continue pursuing 5th Bean as a business with the assistance of the John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise at the University of Guelph.
“As I said, there are legal hurdles before we go to market, but there is significant interest, identifying a potential market,” Mitchell said.