KANSAS CITY — Trends are converging when it comes to food waste and functional flour innovation. Companies are turning green bananas, coffee cherries and soybean pulp/okara — all examples of food waste — into flour for use in blends, including gluten-free blends. Flour with higher fiber levels is one of several health benefits.
About 20% of the world’s bananas grown for the fresh market goes to waste, said Maurice “Mo” Moragne, chief executive officer of International Agriculture Group, L.L.C., Mooresville, N.C.
“That’s because of the exacting retail standards for quality on the fresh fruit side,” he said. “The product has to have a certain angle curvature. It can’t be too thick, can’t be too long. Those specifications cause waste on the farm level. We’re able to go into the small family farms and take that material so the family can make a good wage.”
International Agriculture Group sources bananas from Colombia and Ecuador that normally would be left to waste. The company turns those bananas into its NuBana green banana flour.
The green bananas contain more starch than traditional bananas sold at retail because enzymes have yet to turn the starch into sugar. NuBana flour contains resistant starch type 2, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said meets its fiber definition. One flour, NuBana RS65 green banana flour, features 65% resistant starch.
NuBana flour works in baked foods, pasta, baby foods and liquified foods such as sauces, Mr. Moragne said.
“It works wonderfully in gluten-free flour applications,” he said, adding NuBana can make up as much as 30% of gluten-free flour blends. NuBana has made up between 10% to 30% of other flour blends.
Mr. Moragne and his business partners — Julio Vasquez, David Skea and Umberto Wedderburn — all previously worked at Chiquita Brands International, Inc. before founding International Agriculture Group.
International Agriculture Group this year plans to launch a new product. A patent-pending process created the product from green banana flour that looks and tastes like chocolate cocoa, but with almost double the potassium available in chocolate.
The term “upcycled” pertains to finding a functional use for what otherwise is waste material. Renewal Mill, Oakland, Calif., upcycles okara, a byproduct of soy milk production, into ingredients. Claire Schlemme, chief executive officer, founded the company after she found out a soy milk manufacturer had about 15,000 lbs of pulp waste/okara a week.
Renewal Mill takes the wet okara, places it into a dehydration unit and dries it into a shelf-stable product. The dried okara then is ground into a high-protein, high-fiber flour.
The okara differs from soy flour in that soy flour uses the whole soybean, said Caroline Cotto, chief operating officer for Renewal Mill. The okara/pulp, because it does not use the whole soybean, is light in color and neutral in taste and flavor. It does not have a “beany” soybean flavor.
The okara flour may be used in sweet and savory applications, pasta, biscuit mixes, cookies, sauces, pizza dough and extruded puff snacks. It is gluten-free and may be used up to 25% in flour blends. Renewal Mill has made crispy coconut cookies using okara as the sole source of flour.
Renewal Mill last year participated in a Techstars’ Farm to Fork accelerator program in St. Paul, Minn., run by Cargill. Minneapolis-based Cargill formed a partnership with Renewal Mill after the program ended. Renewal Mill also is looking to upcycle pistachio shells, potato pulp, almond meal and pomace from grapes and olives.
The term “upcycled” also was heard Feb. 25 during a presentation at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2019 in Chicago.
The Coffee Cherry Co., Bellevue, Wash., has found a functional use for coffee cherries, which are mostly skin and some pulp that protect coffee beans inside, said Carole Widmayer, senior vice-president of sales and marketing. When the beans are removed, the fruit normally is discarded into fields or streams. The Coffee Cherry Co. upcycles the coffee cherries by drying and milling them into flour that may be incorporated at a level of 12% to 15% in gluten-free flour blends. The coffee cherry flour, which is more than 50% fiber along with iron, potassium and magnesium, works well in other flour blends, too, she said.
Dan Kurzrock, co-founder of ReGrained, San Francisco, spoke about the company’s SuperGrain+ ingredient at the A.S.B. event. The company turns brewers’ spent grains into the trademark flour that is high in protein and fiber. Typically, SuperGrain+, which is high in prebiotic fiber, may make up 15% to 25% of flour blends, but the percentage has reached as high as 40%, he said.
Food ingredient start-up Planetarians, Palo Alto, Calif., upcycles defatted sunflower seeds, a byproduct of vegetable oil extraction, into flour. The company has partnered with Barilla Group, Parma, Italy, to explore bakery applications for the flour, which has three times the protein and twice the fiber of wheat flour, according to Planetarians.
Chickpeas for the soil
Although not a byproduct, chickpeas offer health and sustainability benefits. Chickpeas create their own fertilizer by fixing nitrogen from the air, which means lower use of chemical fertilizers, according to PLT Health Solutions, Morristown, N.J. The company, through a partnership with Nutriati, Inc., Richmond, Va., offers Artesa chickpea flour, which is a source of protein and has a low glycemic index and a white color.
Natural Products, Inc., Grinnell, Iowa, offers steamed chickpea flour (CP 100-S), which is 18% protein. The proprietary steaming process removes the beany flavor that would be found in a raw product.
“N.P.I.’s steamed chickpea flour offers a very clean flavor profile without taking away from the nutrition of the whole chickpea itself,” said Rob Thomas, account manager. “Anything that can be said about the nutrition of the whole chickpea can be said about our steamed chickpea flour.”
Steamed chickpea flour has been shown to work as the primary flour in many gluten-free applications, pizza crust, cookies, pasta, pastry, muffins, waffles, pancakes, cream cakes and crackers. Meat-binders, pudding and beverages are other application options.
“Our findings are that other gluten-free flours like almond, rice and tapioca work well with chickpea flour and should be considered in the development of gluten-free flour blends,” he said.