Upcycling leftover grains from breweries into nutritious food

By Tamanna Wadhwani  October 17th, 2023

The same grains that are brewed into an ice-cold beer can now be eaten as food products too, thanks to US-based company Upcycled Foods, Inc.

Beer is one of the most popular and widely drunk beverages worldwide. But hidden behind the frothy pints, taps and bottles is a pressing issue – the piles of grain waste that get left behind.

Business-to-business upcycled foods innovator Upcycled Foods, Inc. is looking to tackle this challenge head on in the United States by upcycling leftover grains supplied by partner breweries into palatable food products like pasta, bars and baking mixes. To date, Upcycled Foods, Inc. has upcycled around 300,000 kilograms of grain.

On speaking with founder and CEO of Upcycled Foods, Inc., Daniel Kurzrock, we learned that his innovative idea for reducing brewing waste got under way back in 2009 when Daniel was still at university, brewing his first batch of beer.

“I couldn’t purchase beer as I was under the legal drinking age, so I learned how to make it. But the thing that surprised me was how much grain I was using to make every batch of beer,” Daniel explained.

“It takes about one pound [around 0.45 kilograms] of grain for every six pack of beer. So, to make a five-gallon batch of beer (about a third of a standard commercial keg), I would use 2,030 pounds [around 920 kilograms] of barley. But we would also have grains left on the brew day.”

Daniel grew up in Northern California with a vegetable garden in his backyard with a municipal compost, where he would otherwise compost all the items. However, his university in Southern California lacked similar waste management infrastructure.

“And so, the light bulb moment for me was when I was throwing away this material that looked, smelled and tasted like food. I started asking some bigger questions like ‘is there anything good left in this stuff?’, ‘how does it taste?’ or ‘what can we do with it?’,” he said.

We are not eating all the food that we are producing as a planet. What Upcycled Foods, Inc. is trying to achieve with circularity is build a food system that can do more with less.

Coming from the Silicon Valley area, Daniel grew up in a culture of entrepreneurship and was always interested in food. He started making loaves of bread with the leftover grain and sold the bread to friends to help fund the ingredients required to brew more beer.

He soon realised that restaurants already made burger buns, pretzels or pizza crusts with this material, but nothing was available commercially in grocery stores. This sparked the idea of setting up a business that could close the loop between the brewing industry and the food industry.

“The idea was that instead of sourcing food from a farm, we would source food from the brewery. We are now operating a business at scale providing ingredients and innovation services to food companies,” says Daniel.

“We developed the patent with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). We’ve started to take what we’ve learned with brewery grains and are applying it to other side streams from manufacturing processes where there is what would conventionally be considered a by-product, that could now be a co-product.”

“We’re currently working with the cacao fruit, leaves from coffee plants, banana products and date products. But we haven’t commercialised these yet.”

Daniel is also a co-founding member and former board officer of Upcycled Food Association, which is an industry non-profit that created the world’s first certification standard for upcycled foods; their ReGrained Supergrain+ was part of the first cohort.

Cake pops made from upcycling leftover grains. Image source: Upcycled Foods, Inc

Cake pops made from upcycling leftover grains. Image source: Upcycled Foods, Inc

Upcycled Foods, Inc. has a unique business model in how they are supporting the middle of the food value chain by working with ingredient manufacturers, brands and private label programs both for retail and food service applications. Essentially, the company aims to help food manufacturing customers connect the dots between their sustainability goals and product development priorities.

Daniel also mentioned the set of challenges, on both the supply and demand side, that arose while trying to introduce something completely new to the market. There was a huge need for constant education to overcome this, which resulted in their product being patented.

“We started the company at a really good time for entrepreneurship, as it was right around the time website platforms like Shopify were coming around,” Daniel said.

“The barriers of going from zero to one were much smaller than what they would have been if we came up with this concept ten years prior to the day we started out. We could start part-time, learn and get ourselves and our business ready.”

“A big part of how we’ve gotten to where we are and of how I see us getting to where we’re trying to be in the future, is just to continue to ask for help, to collaborate and not act in a silo.”

“There’s no mutual exclusivity in terms of our solution versus other solutions, especially for the climate crisis. We would love to make the road as easy and fast as possible for other businesses wanting to start on their journey, because we need to move quickly on our solutions.”

Tamanna Wadhwani

Tamanna moved from India to Australia to pursue a degree in environmental science and conservation biology. After learning about the concept of a circular economy in 2020, she worked with various organisations in this sector and is interested in solving complex climate change and waste management problems. She loves to communicate with people about all things sustainability or animals. Outside of work, Tamanna is a budding hip hop dancer who also loves travelling, cat cuddles and reading.

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