Upcycled Food: Wise Trend to Reduce Food Waste

Once a side market and mostly residing in health food stores, upcycled food is rapidly becoming mainstream. From vegetable stems turned into chips and leftover juice pulp transformed into granola to surplus bread, upcycled food tastes exactly like food. Plenty of upcycling food companies have taken over the market by storm, thus positively changing the complexion of our eating habits.

Upcycled food has now become an officially defined term, which will motivate broader consumer and industry support for upcycled food products, helping reduce food waste. The growth of the movement parallels an uptick in consumer interest in sustainability and more eco-conscious food brands.

Upcycled Food

Upcycling has been acquiring ground in substitute food movements for several years but had never been formally defined. The movement has been converting ingredients that would have been wasted into edible food products, not only prolonging the life of discarded food but reducing the amount of food waste.

However, the Upcycled Food Association had defined the upcycled food on May 19 as ones that “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.”

Upcycled Food: Wise Trend That'll Lessen Food Waste

Upcycled food is a new way to reduce food waste | Image: Interact Boulder

The term was defined by a working group organized by the Upcycled Food Association, which involved representatives from Harvard University, Drexel University, Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, and ReFED, a nonprofit organization that evaluates solutions to food waste.

The Upcycled Food Association is a member-based industry non-profit that strives to enhance the profile of upcycled foods. The working members of the association expect that such a definition will make it simpler for food companies to show how their products influence the food waste decrease.

According to Jonathan Deutsch, a professor at Drexel University and the director of the Drexel Food Lab, the definition is putting the functions of the trend into perspective regarding the food supply, the environment, consumers, and businesses.

Upcycling Food Waste

According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted or lost every year; which is a daunting number for food waste, given the relentlessly increasing human population that requires more food and more land for agricultural purposes. The reality complicates the matter as the land mass of the planet is limited and agricultural expansion could result in severe habitat loss.

To eradicate food waste, a rising number of start-ups has been upcycling food waste, by utilizing technology to upcycle discarded food material into new, nutritious ingredients and end products. It has emerged as one of the most impactful and effective ways in which food industry can help save environment from climate change.

Many companies and nonprofit organizations around the globe are working to eliminate food waste by upcycling it and creating high-quality, nutrition-rich products. Upcycling food waste means taking foods or ingredients that are generally thrown away for idiotic reasons – such as broccoli leaves, odd-colored bell peppers, strangely shaped ugly tomatoes, or pulp that remains after juicing process – and smartly repurposing them to produce high-quality cuisines.

What difference does upcycled food make?

According to ReFED, in America alone, 52 million tons of unwanted or unused food ends up in landfills yearly. From the freshwater, which is used to grow these crops that don’t end up being used, to the excess greenhouse gases required to break it all down, food waste profoundly affects the environment. Instead of letting the food go to waste, more and more companies are finding ways to rescue it or reinvent it.

Image: Food Business News

Upcycling has emerged in the past couple of years as a method for food producers to add value to byproducts or surplus ingredients that might otherwise have been wasted. Food companies, like Philabundance and Treasure8 are repurposing safely edible ingredients, like excess milk or “ugly” vegetables, into nutritious cheeses and chips.

We can take these very large waste streams and we can upcycle them into safe, tasty, healthy products and ingredients that can work at large scale distribution.

said Treasure8 co-founder Timothy Childs told Food Tank in 2018.

Food waste has a significant impact on both the food system and the climatic conditions as well. The U.S. Department of Agriculture evaluates that around 30-40 percent of the food supply is discarded or wasted, which amounts to about 133 billion pounds a year.

ReFED estimates that food waste costs retailers about $18.2 billion a year. New research has shown about 40 percent of food goes to waste and accounts for about 8 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

The impact is amplified by the water, energy, and land resources that were used in producing food which was never consumed. Project Drawdown, an organization that supports reducing greenhouse gas emissions, has identified diminishing food waste as the prime solution to reduce the heating.

According to Emily Board Leib, a Harvard University law professor and the director of Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, standardizing the term is the first step toward legislation that supports upcycling.

She says,

Further research can be done to identify and leverage policy incentives to support upcycled foods as a model to reduce food waste and support a more sustainable food system.

The research shows that customers not only understand the term “upcycled” as a separate category but also see the additional value in it. According to a benchmark study conducted by Deutsch’s team at Drexel University in 2017, consumers surveys pointed “value-added surplus foods” as being suggestively different from conservative products and favored the term “upcycled” over eight substitutes.

The Upcycled Food Association aims to use the new definition as a way to signal to customers that food waste reduction claims on products are dependable and certifiable.

Companies Promoting Upcycled Foods

Earlier this year, Tyson Foods announced it would quit making its Yappah brand of protein crisps sourced from leftover chicken breast trim, vegetable puree, juice pulp and Molson Coors spent grain. Yet, across the country individuals, and entrepreneurs are contributing to dive into the food waste industry. There are many companies making upcycled food products.

Upcycled Food: Wise Trend That'll Lessen Food Waste

Regrained upcycles discarded grains | Image: Medium

White Moustache, a Brooklyn-based yogurt company uses surplus fruit and whey, a byproduct of yogurt production that is often tossed, to make probiotic tonics and frozen yogurt probiotic pops. San Francisco-based company, Ground Rules, uses imperfect and leftover fruits and vegetables to make chips without the use of preservatives. 

Utilizing Leftovers

Render Foods partners with chefs to create new products like Weyla, a beverage that blends whey from Soroma creamery with fruits, herbs and botanicals; and Bryner, a savory drink mix made with upcycled pickle brine that could be used to make a Bloody Mary. Partnering with chefs from San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions, the company recreated a snack that the chefs make for themselves in the restaurant kitchen to utilize the leftover quinoa.

Coffee Cherry Turned Into Flour

The tiny fruits that hold coffee beans usually end up rotting on the coffee plantations, coffee cherry waste can be converted into flour. This ingredient can be included in drinks, baked goods, and other products as well. Billions of pounds of coffee cherry go to waste each year. However, one enterprising company is converting some of the coffee cherries into flour that can be used as a nutritious substitute to grain-based flours.

Probiotics Drink

A team of food scientists from the National University of Singapore has upcycled surplus bread into a probiotics drink fortified with stomach-friendly microorganisms. The new creamy drink is slightly fizzy and sweet. It can be stored at room temperature for up to six weeks with high health benefits.

Scraps Pizza

Scraps Pizza is not an ordinary pizza. It’s handmade and is made of rescued produce, including broccoli leaves that are used for pesto on the green pizza, and peppers to embellish the red pizza. The crispy crust is made with stone ground wheat flour.

Rise Super Flour

Rise Super Flour is made from barley that has undergone the brewing process. Resultantly, the flour retains the aroma of the brew. The barley is sourced from amazing craft breweries; instead of being discarded, the complete nutritional value of barley is captured in the upcycled food item.

Yappah Chicken Crisps

While most upcycled foods thrive to be plant-based, Yappah Chicken Crisps are one of the exceptions. These chips are made with leftover chicken breast and topica flour, while utilizing vegetable purees leftover from juicing and spent malted barley from beer brewing.

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