USA Battles Food Waste: Upcycling Transforms Leftovers into Gourmet Ice Cream and Pizza

by Ethan Kim
Upcycling Food Waste

Transforming discarded ingredients into delicious ice cream is all in a day’s work at Tyler Malek’s ice cream shops.

The chief ice cream maker at the Portland, Oregon-based Salt & Straw uses the whey leftover from yogurt makers in upstate New York to conjure up his unique lemon curd flavor. And for a light and creamy chocolate barley milk, he incorporates leftover rice and grains from beer brewing.

“We shouldn’t call this food waste, but rather wasted food and aim to cut down on how much we waste,” Malek commented.

Malek’s ice cream chain is one of the trailblazers in the upcycling movement, turning leftover food into premium products. His stores, from the Pacific Northwest to Miami, now offer flavors like “Cacao Pulp & Chocolate Stracciatella Gelato,” concocted from cacao pulp left over from chocolate manufacturing that would otherwise have been discarded.

This trend is catching on as consumers are becoming more aware of their food’s origins and its environmental impact. A staggering 35 million tons (31 million metric tons) of food, approximately 40% of the country’s food production, is wasted annually in the U.S., costing the economy over $200 billion, as reported by the Upcycled Food Association.

Upcycled food is gradually appearing in products like cake mixes and vegetable chips in natural grocery stores. Ingredients consist of perfectly consumable fruits and vegetables from farms across the country, which are often rejected by restaurants and grocery stores due to their appearance, such as oddly-shaped white strawberries, wilted greens, and misshapen mushrooms.

In celebration of World Upcycling Day this Saturday, the Upcycled Food Association offers an “Upcycling Certified” seal to eligible products. These seals, which are featured on Salt & Straw’s upcycled flavors, increase consumer awareness of the company’s use of such ingredients.

Starting with about 30 products certified in 2021, the association now boasts 450 products carrying the label.

“Much of the food discarded or uneaten in our supply chain is due to outdated aesthetic standards or perceptions of what quality food should look like,” stated Angie Crone, the association’s CEO. “This mark signifies a company’s commitment to reducing food waste in their supply chain, making it visible to shoppers everywhere.”

The association’s seal is also displayed on all products made by Renewal Mill, a company based in Oakland that repurposes plant-based milk byproducts into staples like baking flour, aiming to reduce manufacturing waste.

“The pulp left over from making soy milk is turned into a high fiber gluten-free flour called okara flour,” explained co-founder Caroline Cotto. “We then use this flour to create baking mixes and ready-to-eat cookies.”

The company’s okara flour is a key ingredient in Salt & Straw’s new “Salted Caramel & Okara Cupcakes” flavor.

But the upcycling movement isn’t limited to trendy ice cream parlors, farmers’ markets, or natural groceries. A restaurant in San Francisco that serves pizza and wine focuses on upcycled ingredients such as oddly-shaped mushrooms, peppers, and discolored tomatoes, and also utilizes meat offcuts in its star dish – beef heart meatballs.

“A lot of people associate upcycling with dumpster diving or using rotten ingredients. However, our overly productive food system leads to significant waste,” commented Kayla Abe, co-owner of Shuggie’s Trash Pie. “Some customers might order a meatball without realizing it’s made of beef heart. They’re often pleasantly surprised when they declare it the best meatball they’ve ever tasted.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Upcycling Food Waste

What is the concept behind Tyler Malek’s ice cream?

Tyler Malek, the chief ice cream maker at Salt & Straw, upcycles food waste by transforming ingredients that would typically be discarded into delicious ice cream flavors.

How are consumers reacting to the trend of upcycling food?

Consumers are increasingly supporting the trend of upcycling food, taking an interest in where their food comes from, how it affects the environment, and how they can reduce waste.

What does the “Upcycling Certified” seal mean?

The “Upcycling Certified” seal, issued by the Upcycled Food Association, signifies that a company is committed to reducing food waste in their supply chain and that the product includes ingredients that would have otherwise been wasted.

What type of products does Renewal Mill produce?

Renewal Mill is a company that turns byproducts from plant-based milk into staples like baking flour, helping to reduce manufacturing waste. One of their products is a high fiber gluten-free flour called okara flour, made from the pulp leftover from making soy milk.

How does the restaurant Shuggie’s Trash Pie incorporate upcycled ingredients?

Shuggie’s Trash Pie, a San Francisco restaurant, focuses on using upcycled ingredients such as oddly-shaped mushrooms, peppers, and discolored tomatoes, as well as meat offcuts in their dishes, like their signature beef heart meatballs.

More about Upcycling Food Waste

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TommyD June 24, 2023 - 6:55 pm

im not sure about beef heart meatballs…sounds gross but hey maybe its actually good? idk…

LaraBee June 24, 2023 - 8:29 pm

It’s about time we got smart about food waste. This is a step in the right direction… Cheers to these innovators!

HealthyHelen June 24, 2023 - 9:10 pm

the okara flour sounds interesting… High fiber and gluten-free. perfect for my dietary needs. Need to find where I can get this!

Mike J. June 24, 2023 - 9:52 pm

wow! never thought leftovers could be so tasty!! gotta try that ice cream. who’d’ve thought?

Sarah Smile June 25, 2023 - 12:32 pm

Wow, those “ugly” fruits and veggies finally getting the love they deserve. Great for the environment, great for us!

GregPizzaFan June 25, 2023 - 12:48 pm

Ugly mushrooms on my pizza? Yes, please! sustainability and pizza, what’s not to like, right??


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