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Leon Kaye headshot

Renewal Mill Upcycles Soy Waste Into a Flour Alternative

By Leon Kaye

It’s not easy being a ketogenic flexitarian (thankfully I don’t have to say that at too many cocktail parties, as I don’t drink). Legumes aren’t an option as they have too many carbs. And I also try to limit my meat intake, for the obvious environmental, health and ethical reasons.

Tofu seems to be the answer. It’s cheap by weight compared to meat, loaded with protein and easy to prepare. Cut it into cubes, add it to a broth or sauce, add some veggies and BAM! You’re done.

Yet there's an ongoing debate over whether producing soy-based food products has its own long-term impact on land and water. Plus, there’s the tofu waste byproduct, okara—which has inspired some ideas for food and beverage products over the years, but often ends up discarded, just like nut shells or the pulp from making fruit and vegetable juices.

Oakland-based Renewal Mill says it has an answer to all that waste.

The solution comes after soybeans and a coagulant are added to water to make a soy milk. The solids that are usually discarded during the process, known as okara, are a lot for a tofu manufacturer to deal with. Churning all that tofu often leaves a factory with about a one-to-one ratio of tofu and okara. Bland and flavorless, okara is rich in protein and fiber, but it's generally viewed as waste or sent to dairies or livestock producers for use in animal feed.

That’s where Renewal Mill steps in.

The company developed a process that takes all of that okara, dries it and then mills it into a high-protein flour substitute.

The result is a win-win-win. Tofu manufacturers can say they’ve found a more responsible and sustainable way of offloading that waste. Carb avoiders can find a way to make high-protein and high-fiber chocolate chip cookies or pancakes. And Renewal Mill says its technology allows for the potential to take other food waste byproducts and transform them into something more useful—think: pomace from grapes and olives, potato pulp and even pistachio shells (the company says those teeth-shattering shells can be used as mulch or even to smoke meats in a barbecue).

One company that has benefitted from working with Renewal Mill is Hodo, the maker of a bevy of creative tofu-based foods. Hodo used to pass on its okara to dairies or livestock producers, but now all of those pesky granules are going to Renewal Mill. As a result, Hodo makes more than 2.5 times more money for that unwanted okara, Fast Company recently reported.

Companies like Renewal Mill have an important role in society’s quest to feed the expected 10 billion people who will live on this planet by 2050. After all, the future does not have to be a dystopian one that witnesses more forests being felled for farms and pastureland, especially since as much as 40 percent of the food produced worldwide ends up wasted. Taking a product once seen as worthless and turning it into a premium product of value, just as Renewal Mill is doing, has an important role in both stopping hunger and pushing us to become better stewards of the planet.

Image credit: Renewal Mill/Facebook

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye