"Upcycling is happening across many industries, and there's lots of upcycling ingredients. Importantly, they're not all the same," Banisch said. "What I love about the work with almond hulls ... the flavor is a bit tannic, little bit bitter, so the opportunity is how do you turn that into a positive, and there are foods and beverages where bitterness is one of the defining characteristics."
From nutritional bars to coffee extenders: Almond hulls are ready to mix it up
When the Almond Board of California set out “an ambitious goal to have zero waste in the system,” Mattson was called on to explore the nutritional and functional properties of almond hulls and in which applications they work best, Banisch said.
Upon analysis, Mattson found that “hulls are mostly fiber,” and they had a “fruity and astringent, almost like a black tea, and a little bit bitter” sensory profile with a dried fruit aroma, Willem Duckworth, product development technician at Mattson, told FoodNavigator-USA.
To more easily incorporate almond hulls into food and beverage prototypes, Mattson grounded the hulls into a powder, which “makes it more versatile as an ingredient,” Duckworth said. Then, Mattson’s product development team brainstormed nearly 50 application ideas in which to test the almond hull powder and found several applications, including in nutritional bars and coffee beverages.
The “strongest proof of concept” came in the form of the nutritional bar with a coconut chocolate flavor, which imparted “twice fiber of [its] reference," Duckworth said. Additionally, the hull’s flavor complemented that of those ingredients in the prototype bar, he added.
On the beverage side, the company found that almond hulls worked on “an almond hull in addition to ground coffee” with a coffee extender, Duckworth said. Given that the “habitat for coffee is shrinking,” CPG brands will need to find an innovative way to re-create the morning cup of coffee, he explained.
“We did a few different roast levels, both on the hulls and the coffee. And we found that the inherent almond hull flavor compliments coffee pretty well, adds complexity ... and in some of the roasts, it did reduce the bitterness a little bit.”
With this research, Mattson seeks to gain GRAS certification for almond hulls to be used as a food and beverage ingredient and is currently working on a dossier with information on allergen and toxicity data.
Upcycling trend continues
Beyond its work with almond hulls, Mattson is continuing its work around other upcycling ingredients, including juiced apples, green bananas, brewer’s grain, and even cheese, and working to further educate consumers on upcycled food ingredients, Banisch said.
Per its own 2021 research, Mattson found that 50% of consumers were aware of upcycling but not sure what it is, he said. Additionally, the upcycling certification will further educate consumers on upcycled food ingredient and their sustainability benefits, Banisch said.
“We're encouraged by the emergence of the upcycling certification, and as we've done more and more work in this space, and we work with our clients we’re trying to find ways to help them achieve that certification,” Banisch said. “Upcycling is here. It's a good thing, and I think we'll see more and more of it.”