These Snacks Aren’t Just Tasty — They’re Saving the Planet
Food waste is no small issue: Between 30-40 percent of all food is thrown away in the United States. In your own fridge, wasted food might just mean a half-full takeout container that’s a little past its prime or a bag of baby spinach that’s gotten slimy; on the industrial scale, food waste means hundreds of billions of pounds (and subsequently, hundreds of billions of dollars) thrown right into the trash every year. At home, we can all try to make little changes — such as not overbuying groceries — but for any notable change to occur, the heavy lifting needs to land on the shoulder of food businesses.
Fortunately, there’s a food movement with the goal of helping to save wasted food. It’s called upcycling, and it aims to minimize food waste by using ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away. This process results not only in salvaging food, but in reducing the carbon footprint of ingredients in commercial food manufacturing by using less water, fuel, electrical power, and land. And since over 20% of the water used to grow food is wasted, changing the unsustainable model of food production is vital to our planet’s survival.
The upcycled food movement has grown so much that the Upcycled Foods Association was created in 2019, and it has gained huge momentum since. The organization offers certification for food brands that meet their requirements, and there are well over a dozen brands currently on their list.
We found some of the healthiest and tastiest options on the upcycled market. Most of these products either have the upcycled certification or are currently working on becoming certified. From whey beverages to juice pulp chips, these products can help you eat and drink your way to a better world.
If you’re a fan of cheesy poofs and veggie straws, you’ll love the offerings of this brand that uses upcycled sweet potato products. They saved a million pounds of sweet potatoes from hitting landfills in 2021 alone, and they work directly with farmers to use the spuds left behind during harvest that aren’t attractive enough for the consumer market. With flavors like Vegan Cheesy Cheddar and Sweet Potato Hot Fries, they’re an indulgent treat that’s incredibly planet-friendly.
If the only thing that sounds better than a popsicle is a smoothie popsicle, reHarvest is the healthy snack you need. Their smoothie pops are made of whole upcycled fruits and vegetables — never concentrates — and they work directly with manufacturers and farmers to use produce parts, like cauliflower stems, that would otherwise be cast aside. Each smoothie pop uses thirty grams of produce, saving about 6.5 gallons of water from being wasted.
It turns out that fruit peels contain more antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins than the flesh does. By keeping the rind on their no-sugar-added dried fruit snacks, Rind Snacks saved over 120,000 pounds of edible peels from entering landfills in 2020, and 300,000 pounds in 2021. Bonus: the orange slices are a killer addition to cocktails and mocktails, adding a delightful bittersweet element.
With the rise of Greek yogurt came the rise of excess whey. Because Greek yogurt results in more whey left behind than it does finished yogurt product, this healthful byproduct typically becomes trash. Superfrau reverses that process by using whey as the main ingredient in a sparkling fruity beverage. Naturally full of electrolytes, protein, and B12, the result is a low-sugar drink with great fruity flavors like Pineapple Ginger and Peach Mango.
Nearly 350 million gallons of plant-based milks are consumed annually, which translates to millions of pounds of pulp from soy, oat, and other ingredients. Renewal Mill takes that pulp and turns it into flour, resulting in a carbon footprint that’s 60% less than wheat flour. They sell that flour direct to consumers and also to other companies, and use it to make yummy cookie mixes. Whether you’re into brownies, matcha chip cookies, or snickerdoodles, they’ve got a mix — and all of them taste pretty wonderful.
Not only does Barnana use upcycled plantains and bananas that would otherwise go to waste due to being overripe, they help indigenous farmers transition to organic farming, too. They also pay farmers 30% over market rate to ensure fair wages. Their sweet snacks include Peanut Butter or Dark Chocolate Dipped Banana Bites, while savory selections feature plantain chips and crisps and tortilla chips. Having received placement in Whole Foods in 2013, they were one of the first food brands to bring the word “upcycled” to the consumer market.
If you’ve never given much thought to what happens to all the leftover pulp when fruit and vegetable juice is made, that’s ok — Pulp Pantry has. They’ve saved over 100,000 pounds of juice pulp since going into production in 2019. That translates to over eight million liters of water and 300,000 square feet of cropland saved. With flavors like Salt ‘N’ Vinegar and Spicy Barbecue, Pulp Chips are a fiber filled, health-ified version of the chips you love.
There’s something silky, creamy, and vaguely nostalgic in CaPao fruit and nut bites. That something is cacao fruit, which is 70% of the cacao plant and is generally thrown away in the chocolate production process. That’s because only the beans are used to make chocolate and chocolate products. By incorporating the fruit of the cacao plant, CaPao turns everyday energy bites into a decadent-tasting treat.
It’s a popular meat replacement, but did you know that 70% of jackfruit that grows in India goes unused? Jack & Annie’s utilizes jackfruit that would otherwise rot, turning it into more than just the pulled pork-style meat analogs jackfruit is known for. They turn it into products like sausage links and buffalo wings, too. With a further focus on sustainability, they only ship their products on full container loads of ocean freight so that the jackfruits are sent from India to North America in the most carbon efficient way possible.
There’s a complex array of farming and manufacturing processes that make Solely fruit snacks an upcycling hero. They use imperfect produce that would otherwise be wasted, grow plants with vertical infrastructure, employ regenerative practices that increase plant yields by about two thirds, and ensure production facilities are located as close to farms as possible… so these are fruit snacks that make an impact. Try their whole fruit gummies, which contain nothing but fruit and vitamin C, or their spiced fruit jerky.
By using upcycled corn germ, every bag of Kazoo chips saves twenty gallons of water. Not bad for a food that’s generally used as a vehicle for salsa! Each eleven ounce bag uses 38% less land than regular corn chips, and Kazoo’s chips yield 8% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Available bite size or restaurant style, you’ll never notice how they’re different from a standard corn chip.
We’re in troubled times, but there’s always hope to be found. Upcycling provides exactly that by using food ingredients that would otherwise be thrown into landfills, and instead turning them into everything from chips to drinks. The next time you’re grocery shopping, be on the lookout for products that contain either the upcycling certification or note that they use upcycled ingredients. It’s a small — and tasty — effort that we can all make, and as you can see from the companies’ statistics, there’s a huge impact to be had.
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