Grain-ular Approach: Upcycling A Brewing By-Product, Deliciously

BAKERS AND BREWERS have always been best friends forever, says Bengaluru-based chef turned food researcher Elizabeth Yorke. Her little-more-than-a-year-old initiative, Saving Grains, is working to build a community-centred food business in India’s craft beer capital — Bengaluru — based on this long-standing economic and social relationship.

“Historically, they have worked very closely together because their ingredients have been common and shared — grain, yeast, water. Also, unsold breads from the bakeries would be used by brewers for fermentation during the beer brewing process, and the spent grain from breweries would be turned into flour and used for the bulking up of breads by the bakers,” Yorke explains. This “baker-brewer relationship” is a long-standing model of “the closed loop food system” gaining popularity in present-day sustainability pedagogy and practices, a major interest for Yorke and her project. In this kind of economic system, no waste is generated; everything is shared, repaired, reused or recycled. Things traditionally thought of as ‘waste’ get turned into a valuable resource for the creation of something new. In the case of Saving Grains, the nutritious and beneficial by-product of spent grain from breweries is collected, dried, milled into flour, and transformed into tasty treats.

Yorke first gleaned this knowledge while at an internship over five years ago, with American food writer and bread historian William Rubel. “We were working on different kinds of bread from between the 13th and 19th centuries. We were using grains from that period, which were grown in similar conditions, and using methods and techniques from that time to make the bread. Like even the sieves had to be made to account for the particle size of the grain,” she recalls. One of the things in the process that caught her eye was “this close relationship between bakers and brewers”. Armed with this information, a couple of years later, Yorke finds herself studying at the Future Food Institute in Italy, Bologna, “where they look at systems around food: its production, consumption and waste”.

On coming back to the city, Yorke — who trained as a chef in the first batch of the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration at Manipal University — returned to the kitchen “as a space for experimentation and problem-solving” and put the learning from these two training stints together. And here, the idea of Saving Grains was born in 2021. Yorke was going to use the spent grain from Bengaluru’s bevy of breweries and transform them into good flour. “There are approximately 60-70 microbreweries in the city and they use 200 kilograms of grains to produce a 1000 litres of beer. That’s potentially 14,000 kilograms of spent grain — a delicious, flavoursome, nutritious by-product of the brewing process that’s going into landfills on a daily basis,” she says. “A portion of it does get collected by peri-urban farmers as cattle feed but these processes aren’t very structured because farmers have to organise their own transportation, beers aren’t always brewed on a fixed schedule but reflect consumer demand and so on, and so it doesn’t always happen,” she adds. “But it’s high quality grain, and compared to other grains it is packed with fibre and protein, and it is low on carbs,” she emphasises.

Presently, Saving Grains works with the Geist Brewing Co, a zero liquid discharge microbrewery in the city, as a primary source for their raw material. The spent grain from this brewery is collected, dried out, milled into flour and then turned into edible products. “We work out of a community centre called Kutumba, as an extension of their kitchen project, and one of the ladies there used the flour to make chapatis and it’s been a hit. And now, they’ve started selling those chapatis feeding back into the community kitchen’s other initiatives,” she says, excitedly, because it proved that spent grain isn’t foreign. From this community kitchen, they also produce small batches of granola, brownies, cookies and crackers; and for festivals like Diwali, they have re-created sweets using this flour from the spent grain of breweries. Saving Grains also supplies to local artisanal bakers who turn them into hearty loaves, delicious cupcakes and more.

An important activity of Saving Grains still remains education and creating awareness of the value of this by-product. Most people think they’re trying to say spelt wheat, a species of wheat cultivated since 5000 BC. “People think we’ve misspelt the name of this ancient grain,” Yorke laughs. “We’re also convincing breweries of the benefit of this spent grain, and working on a commission basis with them to introduce products from spent grain into their own menus, we’re trying to grow our own facilities, so we can process larger quantities of the spent grain in-house,” she adds. For Yorke and the Saving Grains project, the idea continues to be to find various means to build this new business model in the food industry. “We’re interested in promoting closed loop food systems in urban centres and making sustainable practices accessible across communities,” she states, determinedly. Let’s raise a toast to Yorke and her project!