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Beer Pizza & Coffee Flour: Tomorrow's Sustainable Pantry

Of all the challenges we face on our planet today, issues of food access and hunger are of foremost concern. Along with inefficient distribution models, waste continues to plague our food systems, and it is estimated that nearly half of our global food supply goes to waste every year. But despair not: some of our best minds, scientists and entrepreneurs alike, are hard at work solving these problems. Today we look at just a few of them.

As reported by Reuters, New York startup Rise has devised a way to make flour out of the left-over barley used to make beer. Previously those “spent” grains went straight to a landfill, at the rate of about 5 million tons a year. Now those grains become flour, flour which can be used to make pizza, bread–you name it.

Under the Rise model, breweries pay a fee for the regular collection of their mashed barley. Rise then processes it into flour, and sells it to bakers and other food producers. The brewers save money and help finance the introduction of a sustainable food product into the system, while helping to remove carbon-emitting waste from the environment. Nice trick.

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Pizza and beer? Try pizza from beer. | Photo: Pinthouse Pizza/Yelp

Food substitutes are another cause for hope: companies like Patrick Brown’s Impossible Foods have been challenging assumptions about our food supply, and making progress. Brown’s “Impossible Burger” uses a high-tech extract of soy called leghemoglobin to mimic the “meatiness” (or umami, if you prefer) of beef. The result? A veggie burger that sears on the grill, and has the texture and taste of real ground beef. Cooked rare, their burger even bleeds.

The potential impact of a product like this is huge: the raising of cattle for beef is terribly damaging to the environment, and demand for beef products is strong and accelerating. With its tiny carbon footprint, a company like Impossible Foods only needs to capture a small part of that market to make a big difference in the global environment.

Back east, entrepreneur Courtney Boyd Meyers has got a few ideas of her own. Working out of New York’s East Village, her company Beyond The Shoreline makes kelp jerky. A healthy take on salty snacks, it comes in three flavors (sea salt, barbecue and spicy turmeric/coconut), and is surprisingly tasty. Richard Branson thought so anyway, and he recently gave the product a glowing (and exceptionally helpful) testimonial.

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Three kinds of kelp jerky from Beyond The Shoreline. | Photo: Evan Sung

Meyers came up with the idea while working on ocean restoration with nonprofit GreenWave, where she learned about the positive climate effects of kelp farms. “These ocean farms have massive potential,” Meyers says. “Seaweed sucks five times more carbon out of the water than land-based plants do out of the air. The farms act as artificial reefs for hundreds of species.” Better yet, kelp is a revered superfood: a natural source of A, B1, B2, C, D and E vitamins, it’s also loaded with minerals. And how many products require no inputs: no fresh water, feed or land?

Another positive food innovation that is starting to make early inroads into the marketplace is coffee flour. The brainchild of former Starbucks engineer Dan Belliveau, coffee flour makes use of the “cherry” of the coffee plant–the fruit covering which is removed before the inner “bean” is roasted. Before now, that part of the plant was discarded, resulting in 46 billion pounds of waste each year. Today, much of that fruit is ground and made into a nutty, nutrient-rich flour with five times the fiber of whole wheat.

Dark with an earthy flavor, coffee flour is already being combined with other flours to make into breads, cakes, even pasta. And its healthful qualities are impressive: it contains high levels of chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant that helps to regulate blood sugar. And whereas roasting destroys most of the antioxidants in coffee beans, because coffee flour is processed at lower temperatures, it retains those vital elements.

If you are interested in trying coffee flour for yourself, we recently ran into a coffee flour/whole wheat bread made by Alvarado Street Baking Company, a worker-owned organic bakery located in Petaluma, CA. You can see a list of stores carrying their products here.

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