Composting isn't the only way to reduce food waste. Here's what you need to know about upcycled foods, plus some of our favorite makers on a mission to give ugly produce and other leftovers a tasty transformation.
Photography: Courtesy of Barnana and Rubies in the Rubble1 of 12
What is Upcycled Food?
From vegetable stems turned into chips and leftover juice pulp transformed into granola to surplus bread (reborn as beer!), upcycled food is delicious! Once a niche market and mostly housed in health food stores, upcycled foods are quickly becoming mainstream. Today, the number of upcycling food companies is at its highest. This spring, food waste prevention nonprofit, ReFed, released a census that said 11 such food companies existed in 2011. In 2017, there are 64 and counting.
Why upcycle food?
In America alone, 52 million tons of unwanted or unused food ends up in landfills annually, according to ReFed. From the freshwater used to grow these crops that don't end up being used, to the excess greenhouse gasses needed to break it all down, food waste heavily affects our environment. Instead of letting the food go to waste, more companies are finding ways to rescue it, redistribute it, or reinvent it. Read on for some of our favorite upcycled foods!
Photography: Courtesy of WTRMLN WTR2 of 12
What they make: Watermelon water
What they rescue: Discarded or imperfect watermelons
In the U.S, over 50 million melons a year don’t make it to grocery stores due to imperfections. WTRMLN WTR "rescues" these fruits and cold-presses them (“everything but the skin!”) into a refreshing drink. Plus, one bottle has more potassium than a single banana, and whatever doesn’t get juiced is turned into livestock feed.
Photography: Sofi Pechner3 of 12
What they make: “Supergrain” bars
What they rescue: Spent grain from beer breweries
Now, you can drink your beer and eat it too. The brainchild of two former UCLA students, ReGrained turns spent grain -- the leftover malt after beer is brewed -- into baked snack-sized bars with beery flavors like Honey Cinnamon IPA and Chocolate Coffee Stout. Health perk: the supergrains in these bars have more than three times the dietary fiber found in oats.
Photography: Courtesy of Forager Project4 of 12
What they make: Chips
What they rescue: Vegetable pulps leftover from juicing
“The whole vegetable story” is what this San Francisco food company has been offering since 2013. After making their cold-pressed juices, leftover pulps are saved, dried out, and turned into crunchy chips with a tortilla-like texture, perfect for scooping up your favorite dips and salsas.
Photography: Courtesy of Rubies in the Rubble5 of 12
Rubies in the Rubble
What they make: Condiments (from chutneys to chilis)
What they rescue: Surplus and “ugly” produce
This UK food maker gives local surplus and ugly produce a second chance. While bruised tomatoes and bumpy pears might not be fit for sale at your grocery store, here's proof they can work wonders in ketchups, chutneys, and relishes perfect on a burger! The label on each jar shows exactly how much produce was saved and used in that condiment.
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Photography: Courtesy of Barnana6 of 12
What they make: Energy snacks
What they rescue: Imperfect bananas
Early to the world of upcycling food, these makers have been upcycling imperfect bananas -- too ripe, not ripe enough, or simply the wrong size -- since 2010. They make snacks like chewy peanut butter-banana bites, and crunchy banana-coconut brittle. The idea for the company was inspired bya family technique for dehydrating bananas to make a sweet treat that founder Caue's father discovered years ago.
Photography: Courtesy of Repurposed Pod7 of 12
What they make: Cacao juice
What they rescue: Cacao fruit (often discarded!)
What happens to the rest of the cacao pod after farmers take the beans used to make chocolate? One Pennsylvania duo found an answer. Pressing fresh cacao pods from Ecuadorian farms, Repurposed Pod creates an all-natural juice that can also be treated as a sweetener in smoothies, cold brew, ice teas, or craft cocktails. Plus cacao juice is a great source of magnesium.
Photography: Courtesy of Earnest Eats8 of 12
What they make: Hot on-the-go cereals
What they rescue: Coffee fruit (often discarded!)
Just what is coffee fruit? It's the husk that surrounds a coffee bean. There's a lot of coffee beans around and thus a lot of coffee fruit that is usually discarded. Now the coffee fruit is on its way to superfoodom via Earnest Eats’ organic hot cereal pots.
Photography: Courtesy of Pulp Pantry9 of 12
What they make: Grain-free granola
What they rescue: Fruit and vegetable pulps leftover from juicing
Whether for breakfast or as a crunchy snack topping, these granolas are made from leftover organic juice pulp rescued from local Los Angeles juiceries. Launched in 2015 by two friends while they were still in college, the small-batch company is saving juice pulps, rich in vitamins and nutrients, one crunchy bunch at a time. The gluten-free eats come in flavors like Apple Pie, Cinnamon Spice, and Beet Red Velvet.
Photography: Courtesy of Ventura Spirits10 of 12
What they make: Strawberry brandy
What they rescue: Blemished and overripe strawberries
Who knew squashed berries could be become brandy? Distilled from local California strawberries and aged in French oak barrels for two years, this strawberry brandy has a dry, fruity aroma with hints of sage and pear. Try it for a mild, fruity twist on an old fashioned or in a sidecar.
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Photography: Courtesy of Stony Brook Whole Hearted Foods11 of 12
Stony Brook Whole Hearted Foods
What they make: Cooking oils
What they rescue: Leftover squash seeds
Those acorn and butternut squashes pre-cut into cubes may be handy for time-pressed cooks, but where do all the seeds go? One small upstate New York food company is collecting them (over 80 tons!) from local family farms and making all-natural cooking oils. The seeds are roasted, pressed, and bottled and each variety has a unique nutty flavor. They're delicious drizzled over hummus, in salad dressings, or used for stir frying.
Photography: Courtesy of The White Moustache12 of 12
The White Moustache
What they make: Healthy tonics
What they rescue: Whey (leftover from making yogurt)
After straining their deliciously thick, handcrafted yogurts this small batch maker rescues the whey to make probiotic tonics. Often whey is discarded once yogurt is made and, due to its naturally high acidity, wasted whey can have a significant environmental impact in our streams and rivers. Thanks to the folks at the White Moustache, it’s repurposed into tasty calcium-packed tonics in tantalizing flavors like honey lime, and ginger.