Oakland’s Renewal Mill spins out new upcycled foods
By Rachel Trachten
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 for Claire Schlemme back in 2012–2014 when she 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. She began a wide search that explored various solutions to employing food manufacturing waste in new food products. Along the way, she found an example in a byproduct of soybean processing: a flour for baking called okara.
By 2016, Schlemme was pursuing a whole new business in 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 Schlemme uses to produce her Renewal Mill products. Those include both okara flour and a 1:1 gluten-free baking flour made with okara and other flours. The line also grows as Schlemme’s team creates—or partners in creating—mixes and ready-to-eat products.
Need a Brownie Fix?
Renewal Mill’s gluten-free, plant-based brownie mix—developed by five-time James Beard Award winner cookbook author Alice Medrich—boasts three upcycled ingredients: okara; pea starch (the result of a strategic partnership with pea protein maker Puris); and vanilla bean powder, which is made in cooperation with a large producer of vanilla extract. The brownies feature Guittard chocolate, and can be made in one bowl by adding just oil and water.
“The idea was to see if we could get a great tasting brownie, gluten-free and plant-based with upcycled ingredients,” says Medrich. Since most go-to brownie recipes rely on eggs and butter, she worked a small miracle, coming up with a recipe that met those criteria.
How About Tortillas?
Taking a break from chocolate and desserts, Medrich has been working with Hector Saldivar at Tia Lupita Foods on a new product that finds yet another new use for okara. Saldivar wanted a great tasting grain-free tortilla that featured the tangy flavor of nopales (a traditional tortilla variation) and fresh lime juice and was low in net carbs. “He pushed me to create a tortilla that met all of those requirements and more. It also had to remain flexible enough to roll or fold even after heating on the griddle,” says Medrich, who created the prototype for this product.
A Leadership Role
Four years after its opening, Renewal Mill has become a leader in the upcycled food movement. Schlemme and her team helped found the Upcycled Food Association, which has grown from 8 to about 80 members in the past seven 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.
Medrich looks forward to continuing her work with Renewal Mill as they 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!” ´
Alice Medrich’s Easy Breakfast Taco
1–2 soft-scrambled eggs
1 Tia Lupita Cactus Tortilla
1 scallion, chopped and sautéed
2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese
Shredded cabbage, chopped cilantro, and Tia Lupita Habanero Salsa for garnish
Scramble the eggs and quick-sauté the scallion as you heat the tortilla for 30 seconds per side on a griddle. Place tortilla on a plate and top with scrambled eggs. Scatter sautéed scallion over top along with the crumbled goat cheese. Wrap it all up with a few shreds of cabbage, some chopped cilantro, and Tia Lupita’s habanero salsa to taste.
Other cactus tortilla topping ideas from the folks at Tia Lupita and Renewal Mill:
- Grilled shrimp, avocado, squeeze of lime juice, cilantro, and cherry tomatoes
- Roasted cauliflower or butternut squash with crispy kale
- Rajas y papas: charred and skinned poblano chiles with simply boiled or boiled and fried potatoes