Upcycling reduces food waste

April 1, 2018

Upcycling reduces food waste

Opportunities abound for transforming leftovers and food scraps into snacks and dessert options.

Getting clever with leftovers

One chef’s trash can be another’s treasure. As restaurant operators seek to reduce food waste as a part of their overall efforts around sustainability, rescuing trimmings, food scraps and other leftovers is gaining popularity. Following are some ideas to upcycle your discards into tasty snacks and desserts.


Going bananas

Overripe bananas, of course, can be put to use in a variety of banana bread recipes, but other options suggested by the Food Network include a baked banana pudding, banana rum crème brûlée and a faux ice cream made with frozen overripe bananas whipped to a creamy consistency in a blender.


Seeds of change

Instead of discarding the seeds and pulp from melons, use them to make melon-seed agua fresca. Whole Foods suggests combining the seeds and pulp from cantaloupe or honeydew melons with ginger, honey and vanilla extract.

Vegetable pulp

Pulp it up

The popularity of cold-pressed juices has created an opportunity for innovation around the leftovers — pulp which can be fashioned into a variety of new forms. This vitamin-rich material is being used in crackers and cookies, and as a meat replacement in veggie burgers and meatballs./p>


Pork goes pop

Bacon grease has long been repurposed in other recipes, but here’s one that you may not have tried: Maple Bacon Kettle Corn, as suggested by the website Something Edible. The recipe includes smoked salt and maple syrup, in addition to the bacon grease and popcorn.

Kale stems

Bar food

Using food scraps in highly visible forms can create opportunities to call attention to a restaurant’s sustainability efforts. At Haven’s Kitchen in New York, scraps such as lemon peels and kale stems are used as cocktail garnishes to initiate conversations with customers about food waste reduction, according to the Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide from ReFED and the National Restaurant Association.

That deliciously moist chocolate cake you had the last time you dined out just might have had the previous night’s leftover mashed potatoes as a key ingredient.

Upcycling — also known as creative reuse — food scraps has become a hot trend in the foodservice industry. Chefs and restaurateurs are finding creative ways to put leftovers, trimmings, ends and rinds to use as part of an overall effort to reduce food waste, increase menu offerings, and operate more sustainable enterprises.

Finding new uses for food scraps and leftovers which might otherwise have been discarded is one of many actions which operators can take to reduce food waste, says Laura Abshire, director of sustainability policy and government affairs at the National Restaurant Association. Other efforts include source reduction — striving not to order more inventory than is needed — and donating leftovers to charities or to be composted.

“It’s also managing what you are cooking,” she said. “Using every scrap is definitely a growing area.”

Celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain last year released a documentary about food waste, called “Wasted,” in which several high-profile chefs found creative uses for food scraps. And Dan Barber, the chef-owner at Blue Hill in New York, in 2015 created a pop-up restaurant — also called WastED — with a menu built around upcycled food scraps.

Consumer impact

Creating dishes from leftover food and food scraps may help consumers think about actions that they can take to reduce food waste on their own. “Food waste reduction is a real tangible concept that consumers can understand in the sustainability space,” says Abshire.

The NRA’s What’s Hot 2018 survey of nearly 700 chefs forecasts that reducing waste will be a Top 10 Concept Trend this year.

In addition, the NRA’s recently issued 2018 edition of its State of Restaurant Sustainability report cites food waste reduction emerging as a key activity for operators. Among the findings, 47 percent of operators say they are tracking the amount of food waste their restaurant generates, about one in five restaurants donate edible leftover foods to charities and one in 10 compost food waste.

Recycling snacks, desserts

Snacks and dessert options are no exception to the upcycling trend, and operators around the country are finding ways to incorporate leftover baked goods, fruits and vegetables into appetizing treats.

Following are some tips for reducing waste through the use of food scraps in your snacks and dessert recipes.

   1. Get the staff on board

Craig Currie, founder and creative director at Root & Stem, a catering company in Falls Church, VA, says he and his team are always seeking ways to reduce food waste and use everything they bring in — a process known as root-to-stem or snout-to-tail cooking. He suggests using leftover mashed potatoes to make what he describes as an “extremely moist” chocolate cake and using extra bread, croissants or croutons to make bread pudding.

Root & Stem also uses scraps from its fruit trays to make agua fresca, he says.

The biggest challenge in reducing waste in this manner, Currie says, is to make it a part of the mindset of the entire staff so they can start coming up with their own ideas for using upcycled ingredients.

“Once your staff knows what you are looking for and something delicious is made, they get the idea,” he says.

   2. Think about healthy snacks

Many of the food scraps created in kitchens are from fruits and vegetables, which lends itself to the creation of healthy menu items.

Whole Foods Market, for example, which cited root-to-stem cooking as one of the key food trends for 2018, outlined the opportunity to incorporate the leaves and stems from fruits and vegetables into other dishes, including healthy snacks, dessert options, and side dishes.

Examples include pickled watermelon rinds, melon-seed agua fresca and broccoli-stem slaw. To make melon-seed agua fresca, Whole Foods suggests combining 1 1/2 cups of cantaloupe or honeydew seeds, along with the pulp from around the seeds, with 1/4 cup of honey, 1 1/2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh ginger and 1 1/4 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.

   3. Look for partnerships

When the University of Massachusetts wanted to convey a message of sustainability to its students and faculty, it partnered with chef Jehangir Mehta of New York’s Graffiti, Me and You, and Mehtaphor restaurants. Mehta, known for sustainable business practices — including upcycling food scraps — came up with a cafeteria station called Pledge which features a menu of such items.

Mehta trained the staff to create such dishes as rice pudding made with leftover rice, croutons made from unsold pizza crusts and salads which incorporate the ends of deli meats and cheeses.

Other examples of partnerships have included juice bars which have upcycled their leftover fruit and vegetable pulp into crackers by working with companies which recover such food scraps, and ice cream concepts which have sought out leftover items from restaurants and other sources to create new flavors.

Last year ice cream chain Salt & Straw, for example, worked with the Roxie Theater in San Francisco to create a limited-time flavor called The Roxie Road, which featured leftover popcorn from the theater.

Opportunities abound for creating treats from food which could otherwise go to waste. All that’s needed is the right mindset and a little creativity.

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