Spent grain should be eaten (not tossed!): Q&A with ReGrained, a company converting the beer byp
When Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz first brewed their own beer back in college, the amount of spent grain “waste” astounded them. The industrious students started baking the leftover slurry into bread, which they then sold to support their brewing hobby. One thing led to another and today the duo is at the helm of ReGrained, a company they founded to turn breweries’ spent grain into a flour that can form the backbone of everything from snack bars to pasta. Kurzrock, who now goes by the title Chief Grain Officer, spoke with EatOrToss about their “upcycled” product and plans to launch ReGraineries around the world. Eat...beer? Explain. So “Eat beer” was a tagline that we came up with a few years ago. The idea was to have something that created some cognitive dissonance to get people to want to learn more. It’s in reference to our business model of working with breweries and taking the nutritious grain they create as a byproduct. We’ve patented a process in partnership with the USDA to stabilize it and make something that can be used to create food. So “Eat beer” is a reference to this concept of upcycling the grain that was already used to brew.
I have to ask. If someone ate enough of your snack bars, could they get drunk? No. they cannot. That’s exactly why we don’t put “Eat beer” on the packaging anymore. We learned that when we’re not there to explain, it’s very confusing. We had a lot of folks who thought the products would have alcohol in them or that they wouldn’t be healthy or that they would taste like beer. So the tagline “Eat beer” worked to get people’s attention, but now we’re in that next phase of education about the benefits of this stuff.
So breweries extract sugar from the grain, mostly barley, and then that goes on to ferment, which produces alcohol. It kind of looks like oatmeal when we get it fresh. It’s got all of the fiber and all of the protein that can’t end up in the beer.
You’ve made this food from a byproduct of brewing beer. Does your process have byproducts? So people ask us all the time why we don’t isolate the protein, because protein’s really hot right now. We can do that, but if we were to do that we would have a fiber byproduct. So no, we don’t have our own byproducts by design.
Did you encounter any of your own sustainability challenges in developing your products? Yes. Packaging. Most packaging is made from oil and ends up in landfill. The problem is it’s not only cheap, but it also works really well. The key challenge is how do you have a model that doesn’t create waste by solving it. [Editor’s note: After discovering that the bars were going stale faster than expected, ReGrained recently switched from compostable packaging to plastic and is researching new compostable wrappers for the future. Check out Kurzrock’s blog post on the difficult decision.]
Some breweries donate or sell their spent grain to farmers. Why not just do that? It’s not going to fill landfills and there’s nothing wrong with feeding the stuff to pigs, but if we’re trying to create a world that better aligns the food we eat with the planet we love and we can recover this food and feed it directly to humans, then we’re going straight to the top of the food recovery hierarchy. We’ve already put all these resources into producing the grain, so shouldn’t we be finding the highest possible use for it all along the way?
What exactly is in the spent grain? We get grain from beers that use about 90 percent barley, with a little bit of wheat, a little bit of rye. Does ReGrained flour taste and behave differently from regular flour? Completely. It’s kind of like a really intense whole wheat. It’s got a nuttiness, toastiness. It’s really nice and can be showcased in really interesting ways through pastas and breads and things like that. We’ll probably do baking mixes at some point. It’s not white so anything you add it to is going to have a nice, rich caramel color to it. Nutritionally it’s the inverse of bread flour. Bread flour is the sugary starchy stuff that the yeast loves. We’re dealing with the stuff that the yeast doesn’t love: all the protein and fiber.
Can people buy your flour for making baked goods at home? No, although if there’s professional bakers out there or brands that want to do R&D with us, we’re happy to talk about it. To actually make an impact on the supply chain that has billions of pounds of grain, we’re running as fast as we can toward being an ingredient partner for other companies, to really create a new category of products for them. What tips do you have for home brewers who want to put their own spent grain to work? It’s not too hard to dry it out in the oven; it’s just kind of annoying and not efficient. You can set the oven to a low temperature and put it out on sheets, just stir and after a few hours it will be dry. Then you can use a coffee grinder and mill it into a powder and just incorporate it into different stuff. Back in the day I used to use it fresh and wet. I’d make cookies and pancakes or something. You can bread chicken if you want or you can do all kinds of interesting stuff. Just play around.
How many breweries are you working with now? Anywhere from three to six at any given time. Honestly, we’re making a pretty small dent right now. We rescued only about 50,000 pounds last year. This year we’re looking to do more than a million, so we’re doing a big jump up. There’s about a pound of grain for every six pack so we really have our work cut out for us.
Any plans to expand or work with breweries in other parts of the country? We’re going to be deploying ReGraineires all over the world and our goal is to be the platform that connects the dots between the brewing industry and the food system.
ReGrained snack bars are currently available on the company’s website and through Amazon, as well as in about 1,000 retailers across the country. Cost Plus World Market carries the bars, and they can also be ordered via Imperfect Produce subscriptions. In addition to the snack bars, ReGrained will be launching a salty snack soon.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Middle: Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz, founders of ReGrained (photo courtesy of ReGrained)
Bottom: How grain evolves from the beer-making process to a ReGrained bar (photo courtesy of ReGrained).