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Upcycled Food

Learn more about upcycled food and its role in reducing food waste.

The common definition of ‘upcycling’ is:

To reuse an object or material and turn it into an object of higher value or quality than the original.

It’s not the same as recycling because the object is being reused and has gained value or quality. Upcycling is important in the circular economy as it minimises waste and helps reintroduce already-used resources back into the production cycle.

What is Upcycled Food?

The term ‘upcycled food’ now has an official definition created by the non-profit Upcycled Food Association: ‘Upcycled foods use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment’ [1].

There are various companies and startups with the mission to turn waste into new products. Let’s take a look at some great examples of how the side-streams and waste from beer, fruit and vegetable, bread and chewing gum production can be reused.

Spent Grain

During the process of brewing beer, used grains (spent grains ) are left over which contain husks – the undissolved part of the barley or wheat malt. Brewers’ spent grains also contain the coagulated, insoluble protein. Spent grain accounts for about 85% of the total waste from the beer industry – an estimated 30 – 40 million tonnes per year worldwide. Spent grain is a great source of protein but it goes off quickly and is hard to process. Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz saw the potential in this protein- and fibre-rich waste-stream and found a solution for the perishable grains. They started the company ReGrained, which collects spent grain from local breweries and turns it into flour. The flour, named SuperGrain+, is sold to food producers, creating a wide variety of products, such as snacks, baked goods, spices or pasta. ReGrained itself produces a cereal bar and a puffed-rice-like snack made from SuperGrain+.

This video explains how the idea came about:

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

A different approach to the same side-stream was taken by Saltwater Brewery in Florida. In collaboration with the advertising agency Webelievers, they developed the Eco Six Pack Ring (E6PR): beer packaging made using spent grain. The two companies were bothered by plastic pollution in the ocean and decided to search for an alternative material for packaging for their beer. They found it in their own production side-stream – spent grain. Dustin Jeffers from the Saltwater Brewery proudly told us: ‘We’re killing two birds with one stone. On the one hand, we can reuse spent grains sensibly, and on the other, we’re reducing plastic pollution.’ The E6PR technology has been sold to many other beer companies to use in their packaging, including Corona and Guinness.

In this video they explain why they wanted to develop an alternative to plastic.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Fruit and Vegetable Side-Streams

As you’ve already discovered, fruit and vegetables have the highest wastage rates of all food. Nearly half of what’s produced globally is wasted. This isn’t all down to not eating it before it starts to rot, a vast amount of fruit and vegetables is wasted before it’s even sold due to it being the wrong size, shape or colour. The English company Rubies in the Rubble fights food waste by turning surplus fresh produce into chutneys, ketchups, sauces and relishes.

This video describes what they do.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

There are also production by-products that have the potential to be upcycled. Kaitlin Morgentale noticed how much pulp was left over after the juice-production process. (Pulp is the part of a fruit or vegetable that is left after the liquid has been squeezed from it.) She started Pulp Pantry to use this pulp to create snacks such as veggie chips.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.


According to Toast Ale, bread – with 44% of Britain’s bread going to waste – is another perishable food that is wasted too often. This English company collects unsold bread and bread crusts from bakeries and uses it in the brewing process for their sustainable ‘Toast Ale’. Adding bread as an ingredient means less virgin barley needs to be used which saves land and water and reduces emissions.

In this video, Tristram Stuart, the founder of Toast Ale, explains why using bread in this way is so important.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Chewing Gum

A quirkier aspect of food waste is addressed by the English company Gumdrop Limited. Chewing gums are designed to be thrown away once the flavour has gone. However, instead of neatly dropping them into a bin, many people dispose of their gum on the street. Gumdrop Limited provides chewing gum recycling bins to minimise gum litter, and also to collect the gum. The waste is then turned into Gum-Tec, a sustainable compound for the rubber and plastic industry where it’s turned into mugs, pencils, rulers and even shoes. They also collect gum waste from the chewing gum production process where there’s potential to transform it into a wide range of products that will then be less reliant on virgin materials in their manufacturing.

In this video, Gumdrop founder Anna Bullus explains more.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Which are you tempted to try? Take a look online and see if you can include any in your regular shopping.



© EIT Food
This article is from the free online

From Waste to Value: How to Tackle Food Waste

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