Possible new foods from beer production left-overs

​The left-overs from beer production – spent grains – contain a high amount of fibers and protein, and could be the basis of new foods. But today, the spent grain often goes to waste, or at best to animal feed. Researchers are now trying to change this.
​Swedes drink more and more beer. In the year 2016, 263 million liters of Swedish beer was produced, and microbreweries have been popping up everywhere, in particular in Gothenburg.

Picture of product from spent grainAs we brew more beer, 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 percent fibers and about 20 percent protein, and could make the basis for excellent and nutritious foods.

More to animal feed in 2018
“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”, says Joshua Mayers, researcher at the 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 food- and brewery industries.

In a first project, headed by Chalmers Industriteknik, the researchers map out the lifecycle 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 explains, and Joshua Mayers adds:

“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 fibers”, Joshua Mayers says.

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”, Joshua Mayers summarizes, 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.”


Text: Mia Malmstedt
Photos: Picture of Chalmers students having a beer, Fredrik Åvall/CFFC.se. Picture of product from spent grain, Sophia Wassén at RISE.

Published: Tue 18 Dec 2018.