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The Ultimate Guide to Upcycled Food

Get the scoop below on all things upcycled, then head to our store to get shopping. Stroopwafel, anyone? 

What Is Upcycled Food?

Upcycled foods come in many forms, but all of them involve ingredients that would otherwise have gone unharvested, or to a landfill or compost. That might be food that’s considered inedible (like avocado pits), produce that’s overripe or cosmetically imperfect, or byproducts of food manufacturing, like spent grain from a brewery. Companies that make upcycled products take those overlooked ingredients and transform them into something tasty.

According to our friends at the Upcycled Food Association, “upcycled foods use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption.” In other words, upcycled products are made by diverting food ingredients from “lesser” destinations—such as animal feed, landfill, or incineration—and instead transforming them into entirely new, delicious items.

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The History of Upcycled Food

It’s no secret that we have a problem with wasting food in the United States. An estimated 38% of our food supply goes unsold or uneaten, which has big financial and environmental ramifications. Not only is that food valued at $1 trillion, it has the potential to feed 2 billion people and it accounts for 6% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. 

Right now, it’s estimated that 90% of all surplus food from manufacturing (which makes up 15% of all food waste across the supply chain) comes from byproducts and production line waste. But luckily, that’s where upcycled foods come in. Instead of things like salmon tails and bruised fruit going to lesser outcomes (e.g., not humans), they’re transformed into fully edible and totally delicious products. Like the stroopwafel cookies we partnered with Belgian Boys to create, or refreshing Agua Bonita agua frescas. The nonprofit ReFED estimates that upcycling has the potential to divert 2 million pounds of food waste each year

Are Upcycled Foods Safe and Healthy?

Well, it depends on how you define “health.” Your own health? That of the environment? Both? While we won’t make any claims, we feel confident about the positive ecological impact upcycling has, especially in our modern food economy where as much as 40% of food produced each year goes to waste in the US alone. In the food waste hierarchy, upcycling ranks directly below redistribution and right above the animal feed tier (which itself sits above composting). Environmentally, transforming byproducts or parts of fruits and vegetables typically seen as “scraps” into something entirely new is the second best thing on the checklist to minimize the impact of food waste.

As far as food safety goes, upcycled foods are held to and must follow the same federal food safety standards regulations as any “normal” foods are. 

Who Is The Upcycling Food Association?

The Upcycled Food Association (UFA) is a “nonprofit food industry association dedicated to catalyzing the upcycled economy to prevent food loss and waste across the entire supply chain.” UFA brings consumer goods companies, retailers, ingredients suppliers, and food system change makers together to drive innovation in the industry through research and investment. Their Upcycled Certified® program is a third-party verified program that requires manufacturers to demonstrate how their products prevent food waste and showcase their positive impact. 

Upcycled Food Products

Early in 2023, we held an Upcycling Food Challenge in collaboration with UFA to encourage food innovators to pitch and develop new products. With a panel of judges, we chose three winners from 114 applicants: Atoria’s mini naan made with upcycled grains, Petit Pot rice pudding using broken rice kernels, and Chomps upcycled meat stick snacks. 

Beyond the challenge, we’re also adding more upcycled items to our store all the time. We’re currently at 75, which means you can start supporting them as soon as your shopping window opens! All you have to do is look for the “upcycled” tag.

Misfits Market Exclusive Upcycled Food Products

  • Imperfect Foods Broken Rice
  • Petit Pot x Misfits Market Rice Pudding
  • Chomps x Misfits Market Beef and Turkey Sticks
  • Belgian Boys x Misfits Market Upcycled Stroopwafels
  • Fancypants Holiday Cookies

Other Upcycled Food Products We Love

  • Atomo Coffee Ultra Smooth Cold Brew: It’s made using date seeds instead of coffee beans!
  • Taza Organic Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans: Because coffee beans go stale within weeks after roasting, a portion of beans that don’t sell are rescued and coated in organic dark chocolate to freeze their aging and transform them into this energy-packed, upcycled snack. 
  • Superfrau Sparkling Fresh Whey, Peach Mango: Superfrau rescues whey from yogurt manufacturing and upcycles it into nutrient-packed sparkling beverages. 
  • Renewal Mill Upcycled Oat Milk Flour: Renewal Mill fights food waste by upcycling byproducts from food manufacturing and transforming them into premium, plant-based pantry staples. This oat flour is made from nutritious oat pulp, a byproduct left over from oat milk production. 
  • Brewer’s Crackers: Brewer’s reduces food waste by making crackers and flatbreads using spent grains, a by-product from beer, mixed with whole wheat. 

What is “Saved from Lesser Outcomes?”

By buying this food, we’re preventing an outcome that would’ve been worse for the environment and/or the people who produced the item. That includes sending whatever it is to a processor, using it as animal feed, composting it, leaving it in the field, or (worst of all!) sending it to landfill.

Keep reading:

How We’re Cutting the Packaging in Our Boxes (But Not the Quality!)

Our No-Nonsense Guide to Sell-By, Use-By, and Best-By Dates

14 Ways to Get Creative—and Save Money—with Food Scraps

Comments (2)

I would like to forward some of your recipes to my/friends’ email, but I don’t see how to do this.

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