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  • Writer's pictureRayki Goh, MSc

Transforming Brewers' Spent Grains into Nutritious Flour for a Sustainable Future

The grain agriculture industry is facing a crisis with the high demand for grain products, leading to resource depletion, environmental degradation, and significant food waste. One innovative solution to these problems is to upcycle brewers' spent grains into nutritious flour fit for human consumption. This process not only reduces food waste but also provides a sustainable alternative to conventional flour, rich in protein and fibre. Did you know that using spent grains for flour can significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and conserve natural resources? How can this innovative approach transform the global food system, particularly in regions that cannot afford high-quality wheat products to meet their populations' basic nutritional needs?

Agrain CEO

 

Dear food people,

 

Producing 1,500 pounds of spent grain flour averts the release of approximately one tonne (2,000 pounds) of carbon into the atmosphere. This isn't just a case of "one man's trash is another man's treasure"—it's about one company capturing and transforming food that would typically be discarded as waste.

 

If you are out on the hunt for the most nutritious flour but also eco-friendly baking at the same time, Agrain, a Copenhagen-based company, is doing something pretty impressive with spent grain. After learning about their production process, I discovered that the company repurposes spent grain, typically discarded by breweries after the brewing process, into flour. This flour is not just any ordinary wheat flour; it boasts a high nutritional content. Personally, I find that the use of the term “spent” completely underrates the potential of this nutritious ingredient. What’s cool about Agrain’s process is that it doesn’t require any extra farmland or water compared to making traditional flour. This means their method is much kinder to the environment. It helps reduce soil degradation, saves water, and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions from farming. Imagine giving our farmlands a much-needed rest from the pressures of overproduction.

 

The global scale of beer production makes upcycling spent grains a game-changer. Global beer production hit about 1.89 billion hectolitres in 2022, according to Grand View Research and the European Commission. Each year, this massive beer output generates around 40 million metric tons of spent grain. Turning this waste into something useful, like flour, shows just how significant upcycling can be.

 

If you're curious about how spent grain flour stacks up against traditional grain flour, it offers a unique nutty and malty flavour to bread, thanks to the grains used in brewing. This gives baked goods a "roasted nut" taste and a distinctive "malt aroma." With its high fibre content, bread made with spent grain flour is denser and chewier than regular wheat bread, providing a satisfying texture. As you use more spent grain flour, you'll notice a deeper brown colour in the bread. Ultimately, bakers can always exercise the flexibility of adjusting the colour, texture, and flavour by blending different types of flour from both spent and traditional agricultural sources.

 

Before we dive into my interview with Agrain, let's talk about why upcycling spent grain into flour matters. This topic reminds me of the highly celebrated Clarkson's Farm on Amazon Prime, after watching the recently released third season in early May 2024. Climate conditions heavily influence grain quality and market value, as Jeremy Clarkson discovered. In one particular episode, climate change nearly caused the harvested grains to fall short of flour standards due to their expected high gluten content. His farm manager, Kaleb Cooper, was extremely frustrated and saddened by the global impact on the climate, which had severely affected their crops, even bringing him close to tears. Watching Kaleb's intense passion and frustration made me reflect on my own conscience. Are we doing enough to reduce the effects of climate change? This episode also highlighted the risk of relying solely on agricultural grain for flour. If climate change continues to impact grain quality, we may soon face shortages in the supply of bread and other baked goods.

 

To give some context, the global bread and roll market was valued at about USD 221.87 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 2.2%, reaching USD 270.33 billion by 2032. This translates to producing roughly 73.96 billion kilograms of bread, which necessitates 56.89 billion kilograms of flour. That's a lot to think about, isn't it?

 

The Problem: Over-Demand for Agricultural Grain

 

The grain agriculture industry faces some significant challenges due to the high demand for grain products. One major issue is the amount of land, water, and energy used in traditional grain farming. This puts a lot of pressure on our natural resources, often leading to their depletion and environmental damage.

 

The environmental impact of grain farming is another significant problem. The practices used in this type of farming can harm soil health. For example, heavy use of fertilisers and pesticides can cause soil erosion and a loss of fertility.

 

Food waste is also a big concern. The supply chain ends up wasting a large portion of the grain produced due to falling short in its standards for nutritious content caused by overgrowing or effects of climate change. This waste increases the demand for more grain, putting further strain on agricultural systems.

 

The oversupply of grains affects the land's health. Intensive farming practices can reduce the organic matter in the soil and disrupt its structure, which decreases its fertility and ability to support future agriculture. Growing only one type of crop repeatedly, known as monoculture practices, reduces biodiversity. This makes ecosystems more vulnerable to pests, diseases, and climate change. The high demand for irrigation water depletes local water resources, impacting both surface and groundwater supplies. Traditional farming practices also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions due to the use of fertilisers, machinery, and the decomposition of organic matter in the soil.

 

These challenges highlight the need for more sustainable practices in grain agriculture to ensure the health of our environment and the viability of future farming.

 

How Can We Maximize Wheat's Potential from Field to Flour and Beyond?

Wheat is a major crop in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In the U.S., it is especially prominent in states like Kansas, North Dakota, Montana, Texas, and Oklahoma. In the UK, key wheat-growing regions include East England, the East Midlands, and Yorkshire. In 2021, the U.S. produced 1.65 billion bushels of wheat on 37.2 million acres, while the UK produced about 14.8 million metric tonnes of wheat on 1.8 million hectares.

 

The U.S. grows seven main types of wheat, while the UK grows five, each used for different products. Bread flour primarily comes from hard red winter and hard red spring wheats, while cakes, crackers, and cookies use soft red winter wheat. Soft white wheat is used for noodles, crackers, and cereal products. Hard white wheats yield slightly more flour, whereas pasta relies on durum wheat, similar to hard red wheats. This diverse production highlights the importance of wheat in various food products. The U.S. focuses on quantity produced, while the UK's emphasis on producing high-quality flour supports domestic agriculture and underscores its reliance on traditional wheat farming.

 

Although both the U.S. and the UK are key wheat producers, their approaches and scales differ. The U.S.'s vast production and variety cater to a wide range of food products globally. Conversely, the UK's focus on quality and specific regional farming practices supports its domestic needs and traditional wheat farming methods.

 

Wheat is not only essential for baking but also plays a key role in brewing beer. Brewers use germinated and kilned malted wheat, which gives beers like Weissbier and Witbier a lighter body, a crisp mouthfeel, and distinct flavour notes. Brewers extract the starch from malted wheat during the brewing process, leaving behind a flour that retains all its balance nutrients, including a high fibre content. The goal of using spent grain flour is not to completely replace traditional flour but to serve as a partial substitute, capable of fortifying products with greater nutritional quality.

 

Returning to the variety of products produced from wheat, knowing that we don’t always get the best quality wheat year-round, the nutritional value in spent grain flour can significantly boost the overall quality of the final product. This approach enhances the nutritional value, introduces unique tastes and aromas, and utilizes resources that would otherwise go to waste.

 

Agrain by Circular Food Technology: An Innovative Solution to the Grain & Nutrition Problem

Aviaja Riemann-Andersen and Karin Beukel launched Agrain in Copenhagen, Denmark, back in 2018. Aviaja, who is now the CEO, began this project with Karin during their time working on a spent grains project at Copenhagen University.

 

Agrain specializes in producing flour from spent grains, which are high in fibre (50–60%) and protein (20%) and offer unique flavours. The spent grain used in Agrain's products is a byproduct of beer production. This grain starts its journey in the field and goes through malting, where it is germinated and lightly roasted, followed by brewing, where it is soaked in heated water. The production process at Agrain involves collecting, drying, and milling these spent grains. By following strict production protocols and constant monitoring, Agrain maintains high quality and safety standards, holding IFS certification and ensuring organic production.

 

“Our upcycling process significantly reduces environmental impact by utilising byproducts that would otherwise be discarded. We prioritise sustainability by conserving the water and farmland needed for traditional flour production, and we promote circularity by preventing spent grain being wasted after the brewing process. We have an LCA report certified by Bureau Veritas that confirms spent grain flour as the most environmentally sustainable flour on the planet.”

 


Grain Waste Utilisation and Sustainable Flour

Agrain's goal is to cut down on food waste by turning spent grains into valuable food ingredients. This offers a sustainable alternative to solely relying on the use of traditional flours. Their process helps the environment by using byproducts that would otherwise go to waste. Agrain is dedicated to ethical practices and creating positive social impacts, supporting a circular food economy.

They aim to solve the big problem of food waste by transforming spent grains into useful food ingredients. This not only reduces waste but also provides a sustainable and nutritious option to conventional flours, meeting the market demand for eco-friendly and healthy food products.

 

Spreading the Love for Sustainable Flour from Local to Global

Agrain plans to expand its product line and continue to innovate in the realm of upcycled food ingredients. Their goal is to roll out new items and tap into more markets. As a leader in the sustainable food movement, Agrain has a clear vision of going global, expanding their product offerings, and enhancing upcycling technologies. They are constantly focused on developing new products and refining their processes.

 

One of their key efforts has been to develop proprietary technologies that improve their upcycling process's efficiency and scalability. Recent innovations at Agrain include a system for colour-coding and an algorithm for mixing different types of spent grains. They have also introduced a new packing line and refined their milling process to produce finer flour particle sizes. With these advancements, Agrain aims to stay at the forefront of sustainability in the food industry.

 

Their Customers

The market is showing a great response to upcycling and finding new, innovative ways to develop products. However, many companies still have a long way to go before truly embracing sustainability and circularity. Often, the talk about these initiatives doesn't lead to real action. At present, their main customers come from the bakery industry, which includes businesses of all sizes. They connect with these customers through various methods, such as direct sales, partnerships with food companies, and retail distribution.

 

Personal Insights and Advice

Agrain emphasises how critical it is to embrace innovation and adaptability in the sustainable food industry. If you're thinking about starting a similar venture, Aviaja Riemann-Andersen has some advice. She suggests that focusing on sustainability and innovation is essential. Building strong partnerships is also important, and staying dedicated to your mission of making positive environmental and social impacts is crucial for success.

 

“There are many closed doors, but don’t give up on the planet.”

  

Health Benefits of Spent Grain Flour

The benefits of using spent grain flour are noteworthy for both human health and the environment. Breweries can repurpose their spent grains into flour, a sustainable practice that is becoming more popular. Spent grain flour typically has a higher protein content, ranging from 15% to 30%, compared to the 10% to 14% found in wheat flour. However, you should also know that when using larger amounts of spent grain flour, the quality of this protein may decrease, potentially impacting the dough's behaviour, gas retention, and bread volume.

 

Spent grain flour is also very high in fibre, containing about three times more than whole wheat flour, which can lead to a denser texture in baked goods. It has a darker brown colour and a nutty, malty flavour. While some people find these characteristics appealing, using high levels of spent grain can have an impact on how much people like certain products.

 

Spent grain flour is richer in minerals like phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium, as well as antioxidants, compared to refined wheat flour, which boosts the nutritional value of foods made with it. However, the high fibre and protein content change how the dough behaves by making it thicker and less stretchy. To get the best results, using spent grain flour may require changes in the recipe, processing methods, and enzyme use.

 

Cost-effectiveness and sustainability

Using a byproduct like spent grains helps cut down on the need for raw materials, which can lead to lower costs for manufacturers. It also meets the growing consumer demand for sustainable, environmentally friendly, and waste-reducing food products.

 

The bottom line is that by combining innovative upcycling processes with a commitment to sustainability, Agrain is effectively reducing food waste and creating nutritious food products. Their focus on both environmental and social impacts makes them a leader in the sustainable food industry. They are setting the stage for a more circular and eco-friendly food system. If you're interested in an alternative source of flour made from spent grain, get in touch with Agrain, and let's work together to bring spent grain flour into the mainstream!

 

And hey, feel free to drop us a message at me@obsideonmedia.com if you have something to say or a question to ask. Let's keep the conversation going and make food sustainability a part of our daily habits together.

 


 

Further Reading:

  1. ACS Publications (2023). Nutritional properties of spent grain-enhanced food products. [online] Available at: <https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jafc.3c02489>

  2. Agrainproducts.com (n.d.). Sustainable products made from spent grain. [online] Available at: <https://agrainproducts.com>

  3. Beer Market Size & Share | Industry Report, 2022-2030. (2024). Grand View Research. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/beer-market

  4. Beer production back to pre-pandemic level. (2024). Eurostat. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/w/ddn-20230803-1

  5. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (2023). Climate change and US agricultural exports. [online] Available at: <https://www.csis.org/analysis/climate-change-and-us-agricultural-exports>

  6. MDPI (2022). Advances in plant science research. [online] Available at: <https://www.mdpi.com/2223-7747/12/3/492>

  7. MDPI (2022). Environmental and nutritional benefits of upcycling spent grain. [online] Available at: <https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9276/11/12/118>

  8. PubMed Central (2023). Health benefits of spent grain flour. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10360159/>

  9. PubMed Central (2023). The positive impact of upcycling spent grain flour. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10094003/>

  10. ResearchGate (2011). Functional and nutritional properties of spent grain-enhanced cookies. [online] Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274692980_Functional_and_Nutritional_Properties_of_Spent_Grain_Enhanced_Cookies>

  11. ResearchGate (2022). The effect of upcycled brewer's spent grain on consumer acceptance and predictors of overall liking in muffins. [online] Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359273174_The_Effect_of_Upcycled_Brewers%27_Spent_Grain_on_Consumer_Acceptance_and_Predictors_of_Overall_Liking_in_Muffins>

  12. ResearchGate (2023). Impact of climate change on wheat grain composition and quality. [online] Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/364420208_Impact_of_climate_change_on_wheat_grain_composition_and_quality>

  13. ScienceDirect (2022). The environmental benefits of spent grain valorization. [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405844022008027>

  14. ScienceDirect (2024). Sustainable practices in the brewing industry. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652624009752



 

The information provided in our articles is for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The content on our website, including articles, is not meant to endorse or promote any specific medical treatments, products, or procedures. The information provided is based on general knowledge and research at the time of writing. Medical practices and knowledge are constantly evolving, and what may have been accurate at the time of publication may not be current or applicable today.

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