It's no secret that the American food system is broken. We throw out as much as 40 percent of the food we purchase each year, almost twice as much as any other developed country. But there's also a staggering amount of food that never even makes it off the farm. Each year, around 4 percent of crops never get harvested; of those that do, around 20 percent are rejected for being too large, too small, or just plain ugly.
Now, food companies are stepping up to upcycle those unwanted edibles—along with the byproducts of beer, soy milk, and coffee production—into brand new products that include everything from baking flour to chips to tea.
These entrepreneurs come from all over the country, but the Bay Area is seriously kicking butt and taking names in the upcycled food revolution. Check out nine local food companies that are making a difference, one imperfect apple at a time.
Renewal Mill's Gluten-Free Okara Flour
Each year, manufacturers of tofu, soy milk and other soy-based foods leave millions of tons of soybean curd residue, also known as okara, to rot in landfill. But Oakland-based Renewal Mill has come up with a much sweeter solution: Upcycle okara into baked goods, instead. The company dries and mills okara pulp into a protein- and fiber-rich baking flour, a soft gluten-free grain that works beautifully in biscuits and pie crusts, among other things. Renewal Mill also uses their okara flour to produce an ooey-gooey vegan dark chocolate brownie mix and pre-baked vegan chocolate chip cookies. // renewalmill.com
ReGrained's Spent Grain Puffs
Breweries produce billions of pounds of spent grain each year. And while the waste material has tons of fiber and protein that can be used as animal feed, it also spoils so quickly that most of the grain ends up in landfill. ReGrained has approached the problem with a process for preserving the "spent" grain and upcycling it into tasty new treats. Their puffs, a light snack chip—sold in flavors like smoked sea salt and pepper and Texas pit barbecue—and super-grain bars, in flavors like chocolate coffee and blueberry sunflower, are wholesome, flavorful, and good for the planet. // regrained.com
Tia Lupita's Cactus and Okara Chips
You may already know Tia Lupita's well-loved hot sauce, a recipe created by founder Hector Saldivar's mother, and tortillas and tortilla chips made with sustainable cassava. Now the company is dipping their toe into upcycled foods. Tia Lupita has just released a new line of tortillas that blend okara, the leftover pulp from tofu and soy milk production, with nopal cactus and cassava. The grain-free wraps aren't just delicious, they have just 45 calories and six grams of carbs a pop. // tialupitafoods.com
Ugly Pickle's Upcycled Condiments and Dips
Ugly Pickle is on a mission to help mend the broken links in the American food system, which wastes around a third of all fresh farm produce each year. The company rescues fruits and veggies headed for landfill and then upcycles them into dips, condiments and, of course, pickles. Try their roasted root hummus, King of Krauts (apple-beet-ginger sauerkraut), carrot top chimichurri, and spicy bread 'n' buttah pickles. These goodies, and others, are sold Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, at Bi-Rite Market on Divisadero, and at Douglas in the Mission. // eatuglypickle.com
Imperfect Foods' Ugly Produce Box
Despite the fact that they are equally as nutritious and tasty as more attractive produce, farms often can't sell products that are off-color, strangely shaped, or cosmetically scarred. Each year, 20 billion pounds of it goes unsold or unharvested. It's a problem Imperfect Foods is on a mission to change. The company allows you to put together a box made up of the produce and other products of your choosing, instead of sending items you may end up throwing out. All fruits and veggies, along with eggs, meats and pantry items, are sustainably sourced and delivered straight to your door. // imperfectfoods.com
Treasure 8's Food Waste–Reducing Technology
Treasure Island–based Treasure 8 is working to accelerate a food revolution by using new technologies to fight waste and provide consumers with minimally processed, highly nutritious options. Using a patented food dehydration process, Treasure 8 upcycles imperfect fruits and veggies into single ingredient beet and apple chips sold under the label Ground Rules. Their newest collaboration with Shameless Pets will help reduce the environmental impact of the pet industry by rescuing waste from farm and dairy operations and turning them into tasty dog treats. // treasure8.com
The Cultured Kitchen's Cashew-Based Spreads
The vegan cheese and butter company The Cultured Kitchen produces cashew-based spreads using a process of fermentation free from fillers, gums, and artificial flavors. Spiked with rescued and upcycled herbs, spices, and produce like red bell pepper and garlic, the resulting foods include creamy spreadable pepper jack, aged and cultured smokey chipotle, and smooth cinnamon date vanilla butter. Order The Cultured Kitchen's plant-based delights online or find them at stores throughout California (see a full list of locations on their website). // cashewreserve.com
Good Use's Cold-Pressed Juices
The Good Use team works with West Coast farmers to upcycle their unloved and ugly surplus produce into healthful cold-pressed juices. Founded in San Francisco in 2016, the company's juices like Vitamin Sea (maple water, lemon, apple, and blue spirulina) and If Looks Could Kale (kale, apple, celery, spinach, ginger, and lime), and ginger turmeric wellness shots, are available online and at stores around the Bay. // gooduse.com
The Republic of Tea's Upcycled Teas
Since its founding in 1992, social responsibility and ethical business practices have been at the center of The Republic of Tea. With their root to petal teas, the company is now tackling the problem of food waste. The company has created an antioxidant-rich Cascara Grape tea from fruit, skins, leaves, stems, and roots discarded from the production of wine (14 million tons of waste per year) and coffee (23 million tons of waste per year). Their Dandelion Mint tea is produced from the leaves of the dandelion root, a part of the plant that despite having digestive cleansing properties is often thrown out. // republicoftea.com