When it comes to growing major crops like corn, rice, wheat, and sugar cane, there is often an abundance of raw material left over post-harvest. Referred to as agricultural side streams, this material includes things like husks, leaves, cobs, and stems. Traditionally, industrial agricultural side streams have not had much use, but upcycling food waste and a focus on a circular economy have garnered a lot of attention in the past few years.
Now, more and more companies in the food tech space are upcycling food waste and agricultural byproducts to create something new. One such company is The Supplant Company. The Supplant Company was founded in 2017 by Dr. Tom Simmons, who holds a Ph.D. in Plant Science. The company upcycles agricultural side streams and uses the fiber from these materials to create its sugar. Stems, stalks, and cobs — parts of the plant that would otherwise go to waste — are the primary ingredients for the sugar.
On a phone call at the end of last week, Simmons said that enzymes produced by fungi are used to break down the long complex chains of sugar found in fibrous materials. From there, the shortened chains can be more easily converted to sugar. Regular white cane sugar does not contain fiber and has a high glycemic index, which causes blood sugar spikes. Since Supplant’s sugar is made from a base of fiber, it has a lower glycemic index than cane sugar, has fewer calories, and is also prebiotic, according to the company.
Sugar obviously provides sweetness, but it can also contribute to the texture of certain foods, like baked goods for example. The Supplant Company said that its sugar behaves the same way as cane sugar in baking, cooking, and caramelizing. Since there is so much excess raw material leftover from industrial agriculture operations, other companies besides Supplant are also finding uses for side streams. Comet Bio is also upcycling farm waste like stalks and husks to create sweeteners and supplements.
Kokoboard uses agricultural waste in Asia, including coconut husks, peanut shells, and rice straw, to create construction building boards. Nestlé launched a product called Nescafé Nativ Cascara this year, a carbonated soft drink that uses the coffee berry fruit surrounding the coffee bean which is typically discarded. This past Friday, June 18, Supplant debuted its fiber-based sugar in the U.S. in partnership with Chef Thomas Keller.
The sugar was used to make vanilla ice cream and chocolate sprinkles, and was offered at Keller’s California and New York restaurants over the weekend. Supplant is currently working with consumer brands, restaurants, and chefs to expand its product throughout the U.S. market.