Proposing a ‘ReToast’ to less food waste

An image of ReToast cookies

Did you know that bread is the most wasted food product?

Food science and nutrition students Radhika Bharathi, Sonali Raghunath, Steven Cak, and Brigitta Yaputri made it their mission to tackle this waste. Their work led to the development of ReToast, a cookie in the shape of miniature toast that's made with 30 percent ingredients from waste products. ReToast serves as a good source of fiber and can be enjoyed in three different flavors—cinnamon, mocha, and pumpkin spice.

The team’s innovative use of ingredients from bread and beer brewing waste enabled ReToast to win first place at the American Society of Baking Product Development Competition, a major sustainability achievement. 

The upcycled ingredients used in ReToast are various food waste products, including bread scraps and brewers' spent grain—a byproduct in the brewing industry. They’re used in the ReToast flour mix, which contains 63.6 percent toasted bread scraps flour, 21.6 percent spent grain flour, and 14.8 percent spent Kernza® flour.

The award-winning snack also comes in reusable and recyclable packaging made from tin and food-grade paper wraps to further reduce waste.

The most innovative ingredient in ReToast is spent Kernza, a promising perennial grain crop with the potential to fight climate change. Originally used only for livestock feed, the grain has recently been bred for human consumption. Kernza provides several environmental benefits because its roots, which can reach up to ten feet, deliver carbon to the soil while simultaneously producing more seed heads than normal wheat.

Additional research conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative, a partnership between the University and the USDA Research Service that studies Kernza, shows that the crop diminishes water and soil erosion, decreases nitrate leaching, increases carbon sequestering, and reduces the amounts of energy, tilling, and pesticides needed for harvesting. 

ReToast team lead Radhika Bharathi is a PhD student in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). Radhika also works in the Carbohydrate Processing and Cereal Chemistry Lab, advised by Assistant Professor George Annor, where her research focus includes optimizing targeted processing strategies to improve the functionality and end-use characteristics of Kernza flour.

“About 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. gets wasted and bread is the most consumed and also the most wasted food, so why not give the bread a second chance?” says Radhika. “We collected leftover bread scraps from local Twin Cities bakeries and developed our own self-curated quality process to make sure it is safe and ready to be used as a functional, nutritive ingredient for baking. I wanted to make sure that we incorporated Kernza in our formulation because it fits so well in the theme of using sustainably sourced ingredients to develop ReToast."

Radhika adds that “it is important to apply technical skills learned in a classroom to solve real-world problems such as food waste and climate change; only then can we move towards making a positive change in society.”

The ReToast team is currently having conversations with investors and hopes to commercialize their product in the near future.