Top two photos courtesy of Renewal Mill
Bottom photo courtesy of Alice Medrich

The process of upcycling works its magic in two ways: first, it makes use of something that would otherwise be wasted, and second, it transforms that item into something of higher quality.

The idea of making a valuable upcycled product was percolating back in 2012–2014 when Claire Schlemme was in Boston, running an organic juice company called Mother Juice. Schlemme was concerned about the issue of food waste and frustrated that her juice business couldn’t find a good use for all their leftover produce pulp. As she researched solutions for using waste, she found an example in a byproduct of soybean processing: a flour for baking called okara.

In 2016, she launched a partnership with Oakland-based tofu maker Hodo Soy. The process they created involves moving the leftover soy pulp in Hodo’s production line directly onto the equipment for Schlemme’s business, Renewal Mill.

Renewal Mill has become a leader in the upcycled food movement, producing both okara flour and a 1:1 gluten-free baking flour that includes okara with other flours. She and her team also helped to found the Upcycled Food Association, which has grown from 8 to about 60 members in the past five months. Members are turning unused foods and previously wasted byproducts into nutritious items with taste appeal. For example, ReGrained makes snack bars from the protein- and fiber-rich grain remaining after the sugar is extracted for beer-making; Repurposed Pod uses the fruity pulp inside a cacao pod to make fresh juice that’s also a good source of antioxidants.

Need a Brownie Fix?

Renewal Mill’s new gluten-free, plant-based brownie mix, which boasts three upcycled ingredients, might be the item to reach for next time a chocolate craving hits or you need a kid-friendly baking project. The recipe for the easy mix was developed by cookbook author Alice Medrich, a five-time James Beard Award winner.

“The idea was to see if we could get a great tasting brownie, gluten-free and plant-based with upcycled ingredients,” says Medrich. She worked a small miracle, coming up with a recipe that met those criteria, meaning it doesn’t include go-to brownie ingredients like eggs and butter. The brownies, which feature Guittard chocolate, can be made in one bowl by adding just oil and water. Along with the okara, the mix includes two other upcycled ingredients: Pea starch is the result of a strategic partnership with pea protein maker Puris and vanilla bean powder is made in cooperation with a large producer of vanilla extract.

Medrich says that Renewal Mill will continue to create flours from other upcycled foods. “I’m realizing that upcycled ingredients will have to be part of the future of food,” she says. “We’re creating so much nutritious waste from new foods, like all of the non-dairy milks that create ‘waste’ that really shouldn’t be wasted!”

The brownie mix is available by mail order from the Renewal Mill website, by delivery from the Good Use juice company, and in-store at Rainbow Grocery. For another treat (this one already baked), try Renewal Mill’s soft-baked vegan chocolate-chip cookies.