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Upcycled Food

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

Every year, 30 to 40 percent of food gets wasted around the world, which amounts to 1.3 billion tons and 1 trillion dollars. As the main contributor to solid waste landfills, food waste accounts for approximately 6 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Preventing food waste is one of the top ways to combat the climate crisis, playing a key role in preventing global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius.

Composting is one way to reduce food waste, but it's not the only way. There is a growing trend to turn this leftover food that many may consider garbage into delicious and nutritious new products. Upcycled foods are a creative way to battle one of the world’s most pressing environmental and agricultural problems.

What is Upcycled Food?

Upcycled food is a way people can prevent food waste through the products they choose to buy. By using surplus food, innovative entrepreneurs create new, high quality food products. In 2020, a team of experts from Harvard Law School, Drexel University, World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and ReFED created an official definition for upcycled food. According to this definition, upcycled foods “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.”

Why is Upcycled Food Important?

Upcycling food that would otherwise be lost or wasted helps contribute to a sustainable and resilient food system. Upcycled food gives value to waste, turning scraps into a valuable ingredient. Upcycling food can be cost-effective for food businesses since they can be turned into a profit (whether sold as an upcycled product to consumers or as an ingredient typically cheaper than raw products to other companies). It transforms food waste that would otherwise cost money to dispose of into a sustainable, positive byproduct. By utilizing all the nutrients grown on farms and capturing the nutrients that might otherwise slip through the cracks, upcycled food products help farmers get more value out of their land, while also helping you meet your nutrition needs with their innovative usage of food parts.

Ultimately, upcycled food is an effective and innovative way of reducing food waste. When you waste food, you’re also wasting all the resources that went into growing that food. By using everything that is produced, we are able to produce a more sustainable food system. When you produce upcycled foods, you’re creating products with a smaller environmental impact and a lower carbon footprint. When you purchase upcycled foods, you are supporting an upcycled food economy with less food waste that results in smaller landfills and less greenhouse gas emissions.

Upcycled Food products

There are many food businesses dedicated to making creative and innovative upcycled food products. You may already consume some upcycled foods without even knowing it! Upcycled ingredients will be indicated on the food label, so next time you’re searching for a new snack, you can vote with your dollars to end food waste by supporting businesses that align with your values.

  • Renewal Mill takes the byproducts from plant-based milk production and mills it into healthy flour.

  • Take Two Foods upcycles nutrient-rich grain and transforms it into plant-based Barleymilk.

  • Pulp Pantry’s plant-based veggie chips (called Plant Chips) use the fiber leftover after juicing vegetables to make more nutritious food while fighting food waste.

  • As the first company to upcycle excess baked goods, bread, and pastries, Lost & Found Distillery creates products that range from hand sanitizer to baking extracts to vodka.

  • The seeds of the cacao fruit are primarily used to make chocolate, with the rest of the fruit discarded as waste. CaPao is changing that by upcycling cacao fruit to make a delicious plant-based snack.

  • Even your pets can enjoy high-quality snacks made from upcycled, surplus produce. Phelps Pet Products and Shameless Pets both focus on upcycled treats for your pets.

  • Imperfect Foods combats the wasteful food system by giving “imperfect” foods (foods that cannot be sold at grocery stores because they are cosmetically imperfect, even though they are still nutritious and safe to consume) a second chance. Imperfect Foods is a weekly grocery delivery service that offers sustainable, affordable groceries while contributing to a better food system.

How to Make Upcycled Food at Home

You can also incorporate upcycling into your home cooking by turning food scraps and leftover ingredients you might toss in the trash into your next snack! As an alternative to composting, here are some ways you can create your own upcycled food using your leftover food scraps.

  • Create a vegetable broth by collecting onion and garlic peels and scraps from your veggies, such as carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, and throwing them into a freezer bag. If you have meat scraps, like chicken, beef, or pork bones, you can also include them in your bag and turn it into a full-flavored meat broth.

  • Upcycle your carrots by using carrot peels to make carrot cake or muffins and using carrot tops to make pesto.

  • Make pickles out of watermelon rinds.

  • If you’re a coffee drinker at home, you can dry out your brewed coffee grounds and use them to flavor baked goods, such as cookies or brownies, or as a spice rub for meat. You could also upcycle coffee grounds into home products, using them to absorb odors, clean counters, unclog drains, or fertilize your garden.

  • Turn lemon and orange peels into candied citrus. Apple peels can be dried and turned into a tasty snack or used in herbal teas.

Upcycled food can be extremely delicious and nutritious, so keep an eye out for products containing upcycled ingredients next time you're shopping for a snack and use this opportunity to be creative in your kitchen while reducing your household's food waste and carbon footprint!

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