"Prepare," Natalie Angier predicted in The New York Times, "for the onslaught: soy cookies, soy bread, soy muffins, soy milk shakes, soy pretzels, soy soups and a new, surely improved version of that old unfavorite, the soy burger."
In its cholesterol-busting guise, soy--better known to most of us in the form of tofu--bears an eerie resemblance to another long-overlooked and unglamorous food hyped as the ultimate quick fix for high cholesterol: oat bran. But will soy spawn the same barrage of products that oat bran did? There's been little movement as yet by the food industry to make this happen. "There weren't any negative images attached to oat bran before it rose to prominence. It was an unknown," explains Ronald Paul, president of Technomic, a food-consulting firm in Chicago. "Soy, on the other hand, has a bad image. It's going to be a marketing challenge to change the public's view of it." Still, Paul hedges his bets. "I always like to say if you can make the kiwi a success you can make anything a success."
Part of soy's unsavory reputation, at least among food manufacturers, stems from its widespread use as an inexpensive emulsifier, extender and stabilizer in items like nondairy creamer and processed cheese. What a ready-made opportunity for publicity, one might think: Since soy is already present in so many foods, why shouldn't companies advertise the fact on packaging ("Excellent source of soy!") in the same way that General Mills capitalized on the oat bran in Cheerios? Lynn Dornblaser, publisher of New Product News, a trade publication that tracks new food products at supermarkets and gourmet stores, explains why they don't: "Since soy is a low-cost extender, drawing attention to it could be more of a negative than a positive."