Using beer production leftovers

By Mia Malmstedt
Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

Using beer production leftovers

​The leftovers from beer production — spent grains — contain a high amount of fibres and protein, and could be the basis of new foods. However, usually this spent grain goes to waste or at best, to animal feed. Swedish researchers are trying to change this.

​In 2016, 263 million litres of Swedish beer was produced, and this is increasing with microbreweries popping up everywhere, in particular in Gothenburg.

As more beer is brewed there is a growing opportunity to take advantage of the spent grain. Swedish breweries produce over 50,000 tons of spent grain annually. Today, this sidestream is viewed as waste, although it contains more than 50% fibres and about 20% protein, and could make the basis for excellent and nutritious foods.

“Small breweries are paying for someone to come and remove the spent grain. They would like it to be used as animal feed, but it’s tricky and a logistical challenge,” said Joshua Mayers, researcher at the Chalmers University of Technology Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, who is now aiming to take a closer look at these processes, together with researchers from RISE and representatives from both the food and brewery industries.

In a first project, headed by Chalmers Industriteknik, the researchers map out the life cycle of the spent grain, prerequisites for a new way of handling this raw material, and the breweries’ interest in making change happen.

“The really big breweries have solved this issue by selling their spent grain as animal feed, or using it as biofuel in their own production plants. This year we could also observe an increase in the amount of spent grain going to animal feed, even at the smaller breweries. We believe this to be a result of the summer’s drought; farmers are in need of alternative feed. This solution benefits both farmers and breweries, who then don’t pay for disposal,” Max Björkman at Chalmers Industriteknik explained, and Mayers added: “The smaller players don’t really have a long-term plan. But we think a change will come. We also see a big interest in developing foods from spent grain. There are many projects going on in the United States and even within Europe — Sweden, however, is falling behind.”

Cereals, flour or meat replacement

Spent grain has previously been used in Sweden in a few small-scale projects with flour, for example, in pizza dough, but there’s a huge variety of possible uses. Spent grain could be used as an ingredient in energy bars or breakfast cereals. It could also replace potato or corn starch, be puffed into cheese doodle-like products or even become a replacement for meat and soy products.

“The raw material might not have the same taste, but the nutrition value is certainly higher as it contains less carbohydrates, and more protein and fibres,” Mayers said.

An investment might be needed by the breweries to make use of the spent grain, but they could also save money on disposal while producing a new product. First of all, however, logistics and handling of spent grain — which have a high water content and spoil quickly — must be solved. The researchers also want to look more closely at the spent grain’s effect on the texture of a product, as well as the taste.

An interest in alternative solutions

“We know that spent grain could be used, but there’s a lot of questions to answer. There are challenges — but we also know that there’s a big interest in solving this,” Mayers said, and gets support from Erika Brockberg, Head of Quality Control at the brewery Poppels: “Spent grain makes up a vast majority of our overall waste, so being able to dispose of it in a reliable and responsible way is important. We currently donate our spent grain to be used as animal feed, but if that plan ever got interrupted, it would stop the flow of brewing, put our whole production schedule at risk and quickly become an expensive problem to solve. We’re glad to be contributing to this project and we’re excited to see what alternative solutions are out there.”

Originally published here.

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