Almond shells in your coffee? Some growers are looking to recycle almond by-products into food
Achieving zero or little waste is an essential step in the pursuit of reducing environmental damage and slowing climate change.
From composting to reducing single-use products, reducing waste has caught the attention of the general public.
The Almond Board of California, in conjunction with Mattson, a Bay Area food science company, has come up with a plan to reduce waste in the almond growing process – recycling.
The idea is to reuse the outer shell of the almond, a fleshy fruit that belongs to the same family as peaches and cherries. Nutrition bars, teas, beer and more could all be made from fiber-rich fruits that are often thrown away as waste.
Insight’s Vicki Gonzalez spoke with Dr. Josette Lewis, scientific director of the Almond Board of California, to learn more about how recycling almonds could work.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On what makes up the components of an almond
The almond pit is inside what looks a bit like a peach pit…the almond, the pit inside is surrounded by a shell. Now, in an almond versus a peach, you can crack the (almond) shell with your hands. It’s very, very sweet. It’s quite wooded and surrounding that we’re off the peach chunk – you’ve got the meaty part.
In an almond, it’s called the shell. It’s very similar to a peach when it first develops, but then into an almond we would let it dry out over the summer. In fact, growers withhold some water to really speed up the drying process, as it opens up the shell and makes it easier to extract the almonds inside.
On what happens to the fleshy, desiccated outer fruit of an almond after harvest
Right now (the cockles are) being fed to dairy cows here in the state of California. It contains sugars, so it tastes really good for cows. Some people call it cow candy. It contains fiber and phytonutrients which are food for dairy animals.
Virtually all of the hulls are currently destined for the dairy industry, which has a very significant environmental benefit for the state: it reduces the amount of alfalfa needed to grow for cow feed by about 400,000 acres. dairy.
If you think about the amount of water that would be needed to grow this alfalfa, that’s enough water that could supply about 2 million homes for a year of water here in the state of California. So, by recycling these holes in the dairy industry, we are already reducing the environmental footprint of food here in the state of California.
On the size of the almond industry in California
We are really proud that (our) 7,600 almond growers are mostly family farms. More than 90% of them are family farms, and 70% of them actually farm less than 100 acres.
So we have a lot of small family farms that are very traditional in this industry, which is a great asset because it keeps a lot of rural towns very vibrant…we (have) the largest acreage of (almond) crops here in California – c is about 1.6 million acres of almonds.
This is because it is the ideal climate for growing almonds. California has the greatest Mediterranean climate in the world and almonds need cold winter weather for the trees to go dormant.
They sort of sleep for a little while, then you have to have springs that aren’t too cold because the almond trees bloom very early, around Valentine’s Day. We need the temperatures to be a bit warmer for the bees to come out and pollinate the crops.
On the choice of what to produce from almond shells
We had a committee of people who really wanted to look at how we could diversify the use of almond co-products and create more value for the industry. And this committee has helped us oversee a lot of different research over the past few years.
We start by looking at what is in the almond shell, what is its composition. We know there’s sugars in there, there’s fiber or these phytonutrients.
We started with a few projects, seeing how we could extract the sugars from the almond shells and maybe use them as a food ingredient, which is possible. It’s doable, but it’s not very competitive economically. Extracting the sugar from the husks versus sugar beets or sugar cane, or any other way of making that ingredient, is not economically competitive.
So we’re starting to look at how you could process the shells or maybe use the shell itself as a whole ingredient – looking at how to make it into a motorized format that would be more compatible as an ingredient but take advantage of the whole what is in this shell.
On samples of products made from shells
Mattson has worked with us to develop food product concepts. They started by tasting the cockles themselves, determining what kind of flavor profiles were (in the cockles) and whether those might be compatible with other ingredients.
A few winning opportunities we can talk about today is the idea of using ground almond shells as an ingredient in a nutritional bar, such as a Clif Bar type product. It adds a lot of really valuable nutrients to this product and has a great flavor.
Almond shells have a flavor profile that has some bitterness as well as some sweetness consistent with coffee. And (Mattson) roasted the almond shells and then used them as either a partial coffee bean substitute or a complete substitute, making a kind of almond fruit tea that has a flavor similar to coffee.
As someone who needs to moderate their caffeine intake, I was very excited to replace maybe 20% of my coffee beans with almond shells, and maybe I could take a extra cup of coffee per day.
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