Food Waste Alchemy 101: Transforming Food “Waste” into Delicious Gold

by Dan Kurzrock October 17, 2016

Food Waste Alchemy 101: Transforming Food “Waste” into Delicious Gold

We waste too much edible food. It’s true. I’m not the first one to say it. I won’t be the last. We can move on. We don’t have to belabor the fact that food waste squanders both resources and calories. Or the science around how, unless food waste is upcycled or composted, it rots into a greenhouse gas called methane that is 20x more potent than the exhaust from our cars. We don’t like it, but we understand that this methane and other greenhouse gases directly cause climate chaos aboard our Spaceship Earth. If you’d like to take a moment to reacquaint yourself with the food waste problem/opportunity, take a quick detour to ReFED.com.

Ok…onwards.

At ReGrained, we are passionate about food waste, because we agree that food waste is a solvable problem. More importantly, we are convinced that addressing food waste through entrepreneurship makes both dollars and sense. We are enthusiastic about offering a piece of the solution, and this inspires our every move.

Our intended contribution involves something that we like to call “Food Waste Alchemy.” For all my fellow sustainability nerds, Food Waste Alchemy is the realization of the circle economy and cradle-to-cradle thinking for nutrition.

Food Waste Alchemy seeks opportunities for edible outputs to become inputs (read: ingredients) for more edible outputs. Oh, and everything must be delicious.

We might be the first to coin “food waste alchemy” but the concept has many precedents. The transformation of would-be waste into something value for secondary markets is nothing new.

The technical term for this practice is waste-to-value processing, or more broadly, value-added processing. You may be familiar with the example of biodiesel, which can be made with used oil from restaurant kitchens.

We are obsessed with businesses built around a model of upcycling and reuse, like our friends Bureo who transform fishing net debris into durable goods. We’ll share more of our other favorite examples in posts to come.

ReGrained is also not the first example of waste alchemy for food. For example, whey protein is a byproduct of cheese production. Sausage is a mix of the meat parts that are undesirable on their own. Baby carrots aren’t a smaller variety of carrots (mind blowing, right?). They’re a product created to reduce waste from normal carrots that fall short of cosmetic specifications and would otherwise have gone unsold.

Like the reuse industry, there are food brands built around this value-proposition (such as our friends at Barnana who sell snacks made from bananas that would have never made it to market). Fear not, we will share many more of our favorite examples in the future, FYI (for your inspiration). We’re humbled and honored to consider these brands our peers and comrades in the common fight against waste.

Still, waste is too often accepted as a necessary “cost of doing business.” Not convinced? Maybe it’s time to drop some idioms:

Idiom #1: Beauty is in eye of the beholder. (Or…is it, beerholder? We can never remember.)

Idiom #2: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

In other words, waste ceases to be waste when someone else successfully communicates intent to buy it. Waste can only exist if markets operate inefficiently or fail to emerge entirely.

As #foodwastealchemists (yup, hashtagging it), our task is to create or serve efficient markets. For example, if a farmer has harvested crops that they are unable to sell for cosmetic reasons or otherwise, a #foodwastealchemist might connect that farmer to a broader pool of buyers (like Imperfect Produce or Full Harvest) or help them better predict how much to grow (like Cerplus).

Indeed, there are as many roles for the #foodwastealchemist as there are many broken links in our food chain. For now, stay tuned. We’ll be covering this ecosystem in greater detail real soon.

ReGrained exists to create delicious food that prominently features an under-utilized byproduct. By doing this, we hope to spark demand for would-be waste.

Remember all those statistics about how much edible food is wasted? [Hint: roughly 40%] These statistics include cosmetically imperfect produce that never leaves the farm and older produce disposed of by grocery stores to create space for fresher harvests. Even the half-eaten containers of takeout hiding in the back of the fridge are accounted for in these stats. But here’s the rub — measured food loss does not include calculations for the grain left behind from beer production.

That’s where we come in.

We’ve set out to tackle a substantial, but neglected, “tap” on the food waste stream. We’ve know that the grains used to brew beer can’t be reused to make more beer. But we’ve also realized that — like what our parents say about us — they still have potential. Their ability to make beer has been “spent,” but not their ability to make food. This is not unlike the potential for a roasted chicken carcass to become a homemade chicken broth.

ReGrained beer grain is a delicious, nutritious, and practical ingredient. Try our bars, and tell us if you don’t agree.

Here’s the bottom line: We all can empower the market’s ability to eliminate waste — the secret is to support the alchemists. Our consumer demand for cradle-to-cradle products enables the alchemy of waste into resources. To be clear, if you are reading this, you are the demand. You are the driver of a circular economy. We cannot perform our alchemy without you.




Dan Kurzrock
Dan Kurzrock

Author

Dan is the Co-Founder and Executive Grain Officer of ReGrained. His bike is fueled by eating beer and burritos.


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