Something to cheers to: the value in beer waste
Teagasc researchers are working with the University of Helsinki to find ways to turn spent grain waste from beer production into functional food ingredients. Brewer’s Spent Grain (or BSG) is a waste product of the brewing industry, but it’s rich in fibre, protein and vitamins.
Brewing is one of the largest global food and drink industries, producing a beverage that’s incredibly popular and widely consumed across the world – beer. However, beer production generates a large amount of waste, in the form of a residual malt known as Brewers’ Spent Grain (BSG).
Difficult for humans to digest, BSG is typically used as low-value cattle feed and fertiliser. When it’s not being used as feed, it’s usually destined for landfill.
BSG is rich in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals, which is why Teagasc has partnered with the University of Helsinki to develop its knowledge in transforming BSG into functional food ingredients.
The project, named BSG-BioBev, aims to re-introduce BSG into the food system through bioprocesses (the production of a value-added material from a living source), making it palatable for humans to eat and drink.
Adding value to waste
BSG’s many health benefits give it great potential in the food market, and the BSG-BioBev project team believes it can meet the growing demand for healthy, protein-rich foods within a plant-based diet.
At the University of Helsinki, the team is exploring the microbial bioprocessing of BSG following physical and enzymatic treatments that help to extract the rich source of fibre and protein found within the product, in order to make fortified food products.
There are obstacles to overcome when it comes to applying BSG to food, such as its tendency to deteriorate quickly, its vulnerability to microbial spoilage (damage caused by micro-organisms) and its unpleasant flavour. To address this, at Teagasc the team will be studying advanced processing and preservation techniques such as pulsed electric fields (a non-thermal method of food preservation) on BSG and the prototypes’ ability to promote good health in the body.
Doing this will give the team the knowledge needed to transform BSG into a reliable ingredient for plant-based fermented drinks with a smoothie or spoonable yoghurt-like consistency.
Sustainable bioprocessing of BSG to food ingredients is an attractive opportunity because it’s a huge resource. The brewing industry has supported investments being made to reintroduce BSG back into the human food chain, with companies sharing their BSG for research purposes.
A social good
Preventing the disposal of BSG in landfills will help to reduce its environmental harm. Furthermore, producing food from this vast untapped resource could improve food security, even for the lowest-income countries.
Various policies such as the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy supports the United Nations’ call to action to feed an exponentially growing population. However, this needs to be done within the constraints of our planet’s boundaries and rapidly deteriorating global climatic conditions, while also creating circular market opportunities.
Projects such as BSG-BioBev can meet consumers’ growing demand for sustainable plant-based diets that go beyond normal nutrition, while reducing the carbon footprint of one of the largest food industries. Now that’s something to cheers to!
39 million tonnes
An estimated 39 million tonnes of BSG is produced each year by the brewing industry.
BSG: the by-product of brewing
BSG accounts for roughly 85% of by-products within the brewing process, present in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer production alike. This is because all brewing begins by producing malt, which involves steeping, germinating and drying cereals (e.g. barley). The malt then goes through a mashing process, where it is crushed and mixed with hot water.
The mashing process produces two components: a liquid called wort, and the remaining malt – known as BSG – which consists of cereal husks, residual starch and other cereal adjuncts such as wheat and rice.
Rich in sugars and compounds which add to the body of the beverage, the wort gets fermented into beer. Meanwhile, the BSG remains an unavoidable waste.
See what Kamaljit Moirangthem, Teagasc Researcher has to say about the BSG-BioBev project in the video below
The BSG-BioBev project is funded by the Research Leaders 2025 Fellowship programme (co-funded by Teagasc and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme), under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement number 754380.
Research Leaders 2025 and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown, Dublin; University of Helsinki, Finland. email@example.com
Adjunct Professor; University Researcher Department of Food and Nutrition, University of Helsinki, Finland.
Senior Research Officer – Food Biosciences Department Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown, Dublin.
This article featured in the TResearch Spring 2022 Magazine. TResearch is an official science publication of Teagasc. It aims to disseminate the results of the organisation’s research to a broad audience. Find out more about Food in Teagasc here