JWU Culinology Team Develops OURgrain: Sustainable Spent-Grain Snacks

The OURgrain team with JWU advisor Lynn Tripp at the RCA Evolution of Food Waste competition.

Last March, JWU’s student culinology team won first prize at the Research Chefs Association’s inaugural Evolution of Food Waste Student competition, held at the RCA’s annual conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

JWU Providence students Samuel Burgess, Victor Eng, Jessica Pulling, Natasha Daniels, Ray Holloway and Samantha Gannon wowed the judges with their savvy use of Brewer’s spent grain (BSG) — a byproduct of the brewing process often discarded as food waste — as a milled flour for their Hazelnut Doppio scone.

The team loved the possibilities of BSG so much that they decided to incorporate their idea as a product line titled OURgrain using the tagline, “Balancing diets + ecosystems one snack at a time.”

The team — expanded to include Nicole Gresko and Mary Anne Squillace — secured a development kitchen at Hope & Main in Warren, and began brain-storming and recipe-testing for a full range of products.

Now they are using the Kickstarter fundraising platform to raise capital to catapult their idea to the next level, which includes expanding the network of breweries supplying them with BSG.

The idea to use BSG first came up when team member Sam Burgess was brewing beer for JWU’s competitive brewing team, and he found himself in a discussion about how difficult the spent grain was to dispose of: “I put together a team and we started researching the subject. We found that BSG comes with nutritional, sustainable and flavor benefits. The flavor is the most important part — it’s of no use if nobody wants to eat it!”

When OURgrain receives a shipment of grain from a brewery, most of the carbohydrates and sugars have already been extracted during the brewing process, leaving a fiber- and protein-rich raw material blessed with the “terroir” of the original brew. The nutrient density of BSG-enhanced goods breaks down as follows:

  • Increased fiber content
  • Increased protein content
  • Decreased carbohydrates + calories
  • Increased fatty acids + mineral content

Flavor AND nutrition — win-win!

BSG typically ends up in landfills. (The UK alone generates 1 billion pounds of BSG every year — yes, that’s BILLION.) The team quickly realized that finding uses for the grain wasn’t just about creating innovative new products — it was also about reducing food waste and opening up a whole new category of sustainable food products. (OURgrain acknowledges California company ReGrained, who have just released a line of BSG-based “sustainable supergrain” bars, as an inspiration and “big sister company.”)

The next hurdle, beyond refining and expanding upon their stable of recipes, will be smoothing out the potential Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HAACP) issues around using spent grain, which has not been widely used in commercial products for human consumption. (It can be used for stock and flock feed, as well as an ingredient in dog treats.)

Giving BSG a second life in baked goods means that OURgrain’s safety standards must be adopted by any brewery working with them, and must encompass safe handling, storage and transport of the grain. The Kickstarter campaign funds will help the team develop a rigorous HACCP plan that will be submitted to the FDA.

The OURgrain Kickstarter campaign runs through December 24. While the campaign is running, the team is working on refining their recipes (13 so far), and making more connections with brewers. They have also applied to be part of Social Enterprise Greenhouse’s 2018 Food Accelerator program. in addition, they are planning their return to the RCA’s Evolution of Food Waste competition, this time using coffee grounds as their base ingredient. (And they’re all current students who are juggling OURgrain with the daily demands of JWU academics.)

Burgess and the OURgrain team see the potential applications of BSG as going beyond food: “We have so many plans! This is just the beginning.”

JWU Teams Wins RCA’s Evolution of Food Waste Competition

Some of the OURgrain products in development, clockwise: Spent grain crisps, darkbrew salted coffee cookies and the crisps with chipotle dip.

Topics: Sustainability Providence