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My Semester of Food Upcycling

Since January, I have served as NetZro’s Digital Communications and Brewers’ Spent Grain (BSG) Recipe Development Intern.  Throughout this process, I have worked to incorporate more sustainable food practices into my own life.  Today I’ll be sharing my experience working for NetZro and trying to become a more sustainable consumer, baker, and overall human being!

From my BSG recipe tests, I’ve found that people enjoy their food more knowing it’s something they can feel good about.  When you tell someone that the brownie they’re eating was made with spent grain and that eating it helps reduce food waste, they tend to enjoy the experience more.  It also appeals to consumers because most of the sugar is taken out in the brewing process but the protein and fiber remain.  That being said, I don’t use spent grain in my baking just because I believe it’s a good thing to do- although I do believe that- or because it’s lower in carbs than traditional all-purpose flour.  As a baker, I value quality above all and I wouldn’t bake with spent grain if I didn’t believe that it could produce high-quality baked goods- which it can, if used properly.

The Key to BSG Baking

The key to baking with spent grain is finding the right kind of grain to complement the flavor profile you’re looking to develop.  For example, the first project I baked for NetZro was a maple walnut scone.  For that project, I selected a spent grain barley because barley has a nutty flavor that complements the flavors in the scone.  When baking brownies, however, I use a half wheat/half barley BSG blend because it’s more neutral and avoids the risk of producing  earthy-tasting brownies.  It’s also rare to find a recipe where you can replace all of the AP  flour with BSG flour without compromising on texture.*  Typically 25-30% is a safe amount to substitute- play around with that ratio to your comfort level.  Not every recipe is going to be a good one and that’s okay!  As with any recipe development, learning to work with spent grain is all about experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t.

My Future With Food Waste

Moving forward, I’m excited about continuing to work on new recipes with different types of alternatives flours, particularly flours derived from food waste byproducts.  I’d love to work with some totally weird and fun sustainable flours like coffee flour to branch out and challenge myself further as a baker.  I’m also excited about spreading the word about spent grain and getting this product to market and into wider use.  For years, BSG has been known primarily to brewers and I believe that consumers would be ready to adopt it if they were educated about what it is, why it matters, and how to use it.  I’m looking forward to continuing my work with NetZro so I can learn more about food waste issues on a wider scale and share that knowledge with others.

Takeaways

My general takeaway from this semester is that I think about food waste a lot more at home now.  There are lots of recipes that say to discard parts of vegetables that aren’t needed for the recipe but are perfectly usable and often more nutrient-dense, like peels and roots.  When working with vegetables now, I try to stop and consider: are these “discard” parts actually inedible or just less palatable?  If the former, I throw them in the trash; unfortunately, my apartment building doesn’t compost, but my roommates and I will be getting a compost bin when we move into our new house in the fall.  If the latter- and in most cases, it’s the latter- there are so many creative uses for food “waste”!  For denser parts of vegetables, I like to cut them up into small pieces and cook them for a bit longer to soften and then incorporate them into a stir fry or curry.  Peels can also be great roasted and used as a garnish!  There are so many uses for vegetable scraps that can lead to better, more creative meals.

A Parting Note

Sometimes it can feel like you could never possibly be doing enough to further the cause of sustainability and that’s okay.  It’s important to remember that the goal isn’t to be perfect- it’s to be a little kinder to the planet each day and to continue to learn and grow.

*Substitution amount varies for different kinds of baked goods; was able to replace all the flour in brownies bc they don’t rely much on gluten for structure but only ¼ in pancakes because too much BSG causes them to lose fluffiness

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