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How the Food Industry is Beginning to Upcycle Foods

Upcycled food is a new and exciting sustainability trend that is leading the food industry in its mission to reduce and repurpose food waste.

Written by
Naomi Harris

Upcycling is defined as “a combination of the words ‘upgrade’ and ‘recycling’…[leading] to the creation of products with added value using recycled materials.” Essentially upcycling is transforming (upgrading) an old product into something new to prevent waste. Which is why when we hear the term upcycling, we tend to think of restyling an old pair of jeans, or painting a second-hand item of furniture to fit your new room decor, but upcycling food? You may not have heard of it, but it is the latest sustainability trend.

Of course, we know that food waste is a pressing issue. Globally, 1/3 of food produced for human consumption is lost per year, yet 1/9 of the global population go to bed on an empty stomach every night. This wasted food is dumped in landfills and produces methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than CO2, which contributes to global warming.

There are clear disparities in the global consumption of food, but there is something we can do to help. Upcycling food is one of the best ways to tackle food waste throughout the food chain. From production all the way to consumption, different individuals are envisioning alternatives to this unnecessary waste.

What is Upcycled Food?

Just like with repurposing an old item of clothing or furniture, upcycling food is the repurposing of items of food that would otherwise be wasted. SELF defines it as, “taking foods or ingredients that we generally throw out—such as broccoli leaves, odd-colored bell peppers, strangely shaped ugly tomatoes, or pulp that remains after juicing produce—and cleverly repurposing them to produce high-quality cuisine.”

Also, upcycled food ensures every part of the food is used to the greatest ability, and therefore no waste is created. All peels, leaves, seeds, and leftover juice can be imagined into a new product to consume.

The Rise of Upcycled Food

The upcycling food industry is a rising business, being crowned the number one food trend by North America's biggest speciality food industry event, Specialty Food Association’s Annual Summer Fancy Food Show, last year. This explains how in 2019, the industry was worth $46.7 billion, and is set to grow by 5% annually for the next 10 years. This increasing net worth is due to consumers, like us, who are making more conscious choices on where we want to spend our money. In recent years, there has been a clear demand for more environmentally friendly products that allow us to spend our cash without costing the earth.

Companies Working with Upcycled Foods

Now that we’ve established what upcycling food is, and how important it is for the environment, the next step is to find companies that offer this. Upcycling food is still a niche market, despite its sudden rise in popularity. However, there are many small companies that offer this alternative to food waste.

  1. Ground Rules: They use leftover fruits and vegetables to make chips free from preservatives. They currently have flavors such as Naked Beets and Sweet Potato. And they offer a sample pack option so you can find your perfect flavor!
  2. WTRMLN WTR: They take Watermelons that would previously have been discarded, because of aesthetic reasons, and instead repurposes them to make flavored water.
  3. Barnana: They use bananas that would have been thrown out to make different snacks, such as Spicy Mango Salsa Plantain Chips and Coconut Chocolate Chip Brittle.
  4. Scraps Frozen Pizza: A Brooklyn-based pizza company that uses traditionally wasted food, like imperfectly shaped peppers or bruised basil leaves, to make upcycled pizzas.
  5. Snact: What began as making handmade fruit jerky from leftover fruit from wholesale markets in the UK has become a global brand. They now offer a wide range of snacks made from surplus fruit, which are all vegan and gluten-free!

DIY Upcycled Food

Despite how many amazing companies there are doing the work for us and preventing unnecessary global food waste, there are many things you can try at home – from your own kitchen – to tackle your own food waste.

  1. Broccoli Stalks – Instead of throwing them out, why not transform them into baked fries? This recipe by What’s Cooking Good Looking is a great example of how to transform this vegetable into a tasty treat.
  2. Apple Juice – Did you know that the cores and peels of an apple can be used to make a juice? How easily we discard and compost these without realizing the potential upcycle possibilities with just some added sugar and water.
  3. Muffins – Continuing with the juice theme, these muffin recipes are a great way to use up the pulp of your fruit and vegetables after juicing them!
  4. There is also a whole online recipe book from Gibbs Lab that showcases unique ways to use up your kitchen scraps and leftovers, such as banana ice cream (pg 9) or chicken fried rice (pg 59).