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28/08/2018 – Sustainability / Malted Barley / Brewer's Spent Grain / BSG / Global

Spent grains needn't cost the earth


The upcycling by a US start-up of the brewing industry’s major by-product offers a blueprint for improved sustainability, nutrition and profitability.


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption every year is lost or wasted. As depressing as such a statistic may seem, even that fails to take into account those (often consumable) by-products of the manufacturing process that are nonetheless discarded.


The global brewing sector plays its part in this secondary product wastage, in the form of brewer’s spent grain (BSG) – the main by-product of the brewing process. An insoluble cereal residue that is separated from the mash prior to fermentation, BSG from malted barley is rich in both fibre and protein. Despite its healthy profile, an estimated 42 million tons of this leftover grain is currently being sent to landfills worldwide every year.


However, Brooklyn-based start-up RISE Products has grasped the opportunity to upcycle this nutritious by-product – adding value for neighbourhood craft breweries in the process.


The innovative food firm – a group of NYU graduates – produces stone-ground whole barley flour, hand-made from the upcycled grain. The resulting flour products have an interesting flavour profile characterised by the unique flavours and colours of the various types of local beers from which they are derived.


“Super flour”


The upcycling mission itself is admirable – and one that chimes with numerous local brewing outfits. And little wonder: Instead of paying for waste removal, such firms pay a smaller fee to RISE to collect their spent grain. 


One of the logistical issues that the upcycling start-up faces with the process is timing. When it gets the wet barley from a brewery, it has about six to eight hours to dehydrate the grain before it spoils. However, assuming that timeframe is achieved, the end-result is what the company has dubbed “super-flour”.


Indeed, barley flour is renowned for its health benefits. Since most of the sugar is removed during the beer making process, barley flour contains just one-third the carbohydrate content of standard all-purpose flour. It also has twice the protein content and a remarkable 12 times greater level of fibre. 


Cheers to sustainability


Given the mounting evidence that supports the notion that a commitment to corporate sustainability practices is today a basic cost-of-entry for companies that hope to succeed in the marketplace, the foundations upon which RISE Products has built its business model surely bode well for its future prospects.


A survey conducted by research firm Nielsen noted that a commitment to the environment has the power to sway product purchase for 45 per cent of consumers surveyed. Commitment to the consumer’s community (41 per cent) was also deemed an important purchase driver.


With an increasing demand for sustainability in all operations, it is self evident that side-streams such as BSG should not be disregarded and discarded in the future. At present, the by-product is already utilised as cattle feed by certain businesses, yet due to its short lifespan and microbiological instability, such an application is of limited use to sites where no such cattle business exists in close vicinity. Indeed, in towns and cities, upcycling BSG for the human food sector seems the logical – and more profitable – option.


Certainly, given the enormous nutritional benefits of this by-product, there is no reason why repurposing brewer’s spent grain shouldn’t become standard practice. Diverting from landfill millions of tonnes of delicious, nutritious and sustainable ingredient is surely something that brewers and bakers alike can toast to.

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