We’e heard a lot about food in beer (beets, ginger, chocolate, orange peel, it goes on.) But what about food made from beer?
A pair of California entrepreneurs started baking bread in their frat house at UCLA using the spent grain from their home brewing experiments. They grew that enterprise into a company they called ReGrained. It’s part of a growing “food upcycling” movement.
“Brewers aren’t wasteful, you just can’t make beer without using a bunch of grain,” said Dan Kurzrock, co-founder of ReGrained. “So we see our role as creating this platform between the brewing and the food system. We can have a service for the breweries, saving them disposal cost on getting rid of the grain and upcycling it to the highest use, which in our opinion is feeding people directly.”
The majority of brewers in this country still work with farmers who can use brewer’s malt for animal feed, but with the growth in craft beer (two new breweries a day!) and urbanization of the craft beer movement, there are more and more breweries in cities that don’t have farmers coming to get the grain.
They collect spent grain from barley-based beers, which is most beers.
“Even though there’s a lot of different styles of beer, most of the malts are barley malts,” Kurzrock said. “It’s pretty consistent.”
Now, some brewers say you wouldn’t want to eat used brewer’s malt because all the sugar has been used up in the fermenting process. Kurzrock acknowledges that the mash is not sweet, but it’s not particularly sour or bitter either.
“It just tastes like kind of flavorless oatmeal. I wouldn’t eat spoonfuls of it but as a core ingredient it’s quite impressive: anything you’re adding it to, it’s going to increase the fiber it’s going to increase the protein and it’s going to decrease the sugar. Chefs actually really like it because it’s not completely neutral, it has kind of a nutty flavor to it.”
The company currently offers chewy food bars (“kind of like a healthy Rice Krispies treat,” Kurzrock says) and plans to launch a flour product, milled from the brewer’s malt.
They’re even developing a patented drying system, doing the R&D at a USDA facility near Berkeley, to dry the malt before milling it into flour. The system is energy-efficient and preserves nutrients well, he said.
For homebrewers interested in taking their own spent grain for a culinary spin, Kurzrock recommends drying the malt in the oven. Then you can even “mill” it in a coffee grinder, if you don’t have a food mill handy, and sift out a workable flour to mix into breads, cookies or pasta.
The folks at homebrew supply store the Brooklyn Brew Shop host a Spent Grain Chef blog with lots of ideas about taking it from there.
Re-using food “waste” for human consumption is not a new idea, but activists working on the giant problem of food waste in the U.S. are taking it to a new level and talking about “closing nutrient loops.”
Take whey, for example. It’s a byproduct (or “co-product,” if you have a use for it) of the cheese making process, and it’s now used in lots of “functional food” products as a protein source.
“There are some cheese companies now finding that there’s such high demand for their whey that they actually make cheese just so they have the whey,” Kurzrock said.
And dozens of other companies around the country are making food and beverage products from their own or other producers’ waste stream. Advocacy group ReFED keeps an inventory of more than 60 such “innovator” companies.
There’s a San Francisco company making chips from the fruit and veggie fiber left over from juicing. There’s even a British company that recently expanded across the pond doing the opposite of what ReGrained does: instead of making food from beer byproducts, they make beer from unsold bread.
Toast Ale makes a lager, pale ale and IPA from bread that would otherwise go to waste.
“People can make an impact in this movement by supporting companies that have these models,” Kurzrock said. “We do all that we can not just to be less bad, but to be good.”
Cheers to that.