We’re always on the hunt for exciting companies revolutionizing the food space by reducing waste and helping to build a stronger, more sustainable food future. When we heard about Renewal Mill, an Oakland-based startup that upcycles the byproducts of food manufacturing into premium ingredients to reduce food waste, we couldn’t wait to partner with them. Starting in December, our Bay Area customers will be able to add Renewal Mill’s okara flour, a high fiber, high protein, gluten-free flour made from the byproduct of soymilk production to their boxes.
We sat down with Caroline Cotto, the COO of Renewal Mill, to chat about all things flour, cookies, and upcycling! We hope you enjoy it.
Imperfect produce: Tell us about Renewal Mill!
Caroline Cotto: Renewal Mill is a next-generation ingredients company that upcycles the byproducts of food manufacturing into premium ingredients and products. We co-locate our proprietary technology at factories to create premium products directly on-site before they ever leave the factory floor. Our initial ingredient, okara flour, is made from the byproduct of soymilk production. It is the first superfood flour with a price enabling mass-market use. Personally, we use the okara flour to make Renewal Mill products that are healthier and tastier than existing brands. Starting with okara, we’re creating a whole line of byproduct-derived ingredients that meet consumer and producer demands for clean labels, better nutrition, and increased transparency and sustainability.
IP: What is your mission and vision?
CC: Our mission is to create a new circular economy of food that reduces waste and delivers affordable nutrition and taste to those who need it most. Renewal Mill’s role in this new circular economy will be a B2B distributed ingredients producer where byproducts from one production facility are processed to precisely meet the needs of another facility.
We’re using this process to solve the food crises present for low-income consumers, who, due to the lack of affordability and access to healthy foods, face significantly higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Packaged food companies have, thus far, been unsuccessful in creating higher quality and nutritionally dense products for the low income/low access market. This “grocery gap” has created a striking imbalance between increased healthy foods intake for middle and upper-income consumers and stagnant healthy foods intake for lower-income consumers (Wilett et al.). A primary driver of this situation has been the lack of affordable non-commodity (corn or wheat) based ingredients available for product development. With Renewal Mill as the engine of nutrient cycling, we can change this reality.
IP: We’re so inspired by that. Can you tell us what okara flour is and why we should be cooking with it?
CC: Okara is a delicious superfood harvested from the soybean pulp created during soymilk production. A traditional East Asian ingredient, okara has been used for centuries in its wet form to make savory dishes like the popular Japanese okonomiyaki. Renewal Mill uses okara to craft a high protein, high fiber gluten-free flour.
With 6 times the fiber and 1/15th the carbs of traditional white flour, okara flour blends great taste and powerful nutrition to create a truly versatile ingredient. Added to any flour-based product, okara packs in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals while allowing the product to retain its same taste, texture, and appearance. While other alternative gluten-free flours are designed for premium, high-end consumers, okara is the first superfood flour with price, taste, and use parity to all-purpose flour, enabling use in both sweet and savory everyday foods. Research even shows that eating okara keeps your heart healthy, your waist trim, and your muscles strong (it helps with active recovery). So, choosing okara is better for you and better for the planet.
IP: What’s your favorite thing to make with okara flour?
CC: Our favorite thing to make with okara flour is cookies! Our head of product development, Alice Medrich, is a 3 times James Beard Award-Winning cookbook author who makes a delicious crispy coconut okara cookie. We also sell our soft-baked organic okara chocolate chip cookies (100% vegan) in the Bay Area: the perfect treat for your afternoon.
IP: What other byproducts does Renewal Mill plan to carry?
CC: At the moment, we’re focused primarily on upcycling fibrous byproducts. We’ve had interest from companies looking for solutions from everything from almond milk pulp, the pea starch, to juice pulp, to potato peels. This year we’ll be bringing on our second ingredient; we’re still determining what that is, but we’ll be sure to let the Imperfect family know!
IP: How do you fight food waste in your kitchen?
CC: Besides cooking with lots of okara flour, we make sure to compost and recycle, but we also make an extra conscious effort to use everything we buy. If we are going to be traveling for work, we’ll make sure to freeze any uneaten produce or cook it into meals we can freeze for later. We also freeze vegetable odds and ends that would otherwise go to waste and use them later to make soup stocks, etc. If we still have leftover food we can’t eat by ourselves, we’ll share with our housemates and co-workers.
IP: Favorite piece of produce?
CC: It’s sooo hard to choose just one, but I think it might be sweet potatoes. A recipe I can’t wait to try out is sweet potato gnocchi. We’ve had a lot of success with the traditional okara gnocchi, so this holiday season, we’re going to take a Fall spin on it.
Be sure to add Renewal Mill okara flour to your box if you’re in the Bay Area! You can also follow along with their journey on Instagram.