Looking to food waste for new ingredients

20 Aug 2018

The food industry produces an enormous amount of waste during processing, but some are looking to give such products new life as valuable specialist ingredients.

Looking to food waste for new ingredients

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that one third of all food produced globally is either lost at the farming and production level, or wasted at the retail, manufacturing and consumption level. During food processing, waste products include vegetable-based leftovers after the extraction of oil, starch, juice and sugars, animal-based wastes like bones, offal and hides, and waste from dairy processing, such as whey protein from cheese making.

Increasingly, researchers and innovative companies have started considering ways to extract maximum value from these products, adding them back into foods and food packaging, and also reducing their environmental impact.

The FAO has said that preventing food wastage to begin with is the best way to reduce its economic and environmental impact, but it recommends finding new uses for food products that do end up being discarded. Some examples include using coffee grounds as a growth medium for mushrooms, spent brewing grains in bread and pretzels, and tropical fruit waste in biodegradable packaging.

Scelta Mushrooms is one company taking this approach, supplying a range of salt enhancing extracts from mushroom waste, such as stems, blanching water and mushrooms that are considered visually unappealing. Swiss company FoodSolutionsTeam uses green chemistry to make functional ingredients from vegetable waste streams, including an ingredient from carrot pulp that can be used for water binding in processed foods. The company produces similar ingredients from linseed, peas and rice.

TNO is also exploring the possibility that new ingredients could be produced by fermenting waste products. The work is currently at a pilot phase, but it says potential ingredients include vitamins, antimicrobial components, fibres, oligosaccharides and organic acids for food preservation.

As almonds and almond ingredients continue to gain in popularity, the Almond Board of California is another company looking at reusing waste, such as almond hulls, husks and twigs. Currently used as low-value animal feed, it says such products could be used to produce sugar or beer, as a growth medium for mushrooms, or for biodegradable plastic.

Many companies and researchers are looking for compostable alternatives to flexible plastic packaging, and food waste streams may provide an answer. For example, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States recently developed a flexible, transparent and biodegradable plastic-like film from crab shells and tree fibres. However, challenges still remain to scale up their work in a way that makes the packaging cost-competitive with petroleum-based plastics.

In the meantime, major companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Danone and Nestlé Waters have already made pledges to move toward biodegradable packaging, and are exploring food waste streams for potential raw materials.

Sustainability has grown in importance for consumers and food manufacturers alike, and previously discarded by-products are being reconsidered right along the food production chain – from ingredients to packaging. As national governments, EU institutions and organisations like the FAO continue to back new research in the area, it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing down.

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