Knowledge for a sustainable world

Tanya E Stathers, Parag Acharya, Joshua Muhumuza,

Halloween is upon us, a night excitedly longed for by children across many countries. A night associated with traditions of carving ghoulish faces into pumpkins, which are then placed on doorsteps with their flickering candlelight inviting groups of giggling children adorned in spooky costumes and offering tricks or requesting edible treats from each doorstep they visit.

While carving these ghoulish pumpkins, slimy handfuls of seeds, and chunks of pumpkin flesh and skin are removed – perhaps for adding to soups or trays of roasted vegetables – or to the compost heap - or tipping straight into the bin.

The innovative IPSUS project led by NRI is exploring the potential of upcycling food sources such as, pumpkin seeds that are typically lost or wasted during industrial processing or farming activities. Upcycling involves transforming ingredients that would have been lost or wasted from the food system into valuable edible food products. The goal is to extract proteins from these sources, which could provide more sustainable protein options than current animal-based sources. Such waste to protein conversion technologies offer promising sustainable alternative protein sources. NRI is partnering with research and business partners from Turkey, Italy, Romania, Morocco, and France in delivering the IPSUS project.

In addition to pumpkins, the IPSUS project has been exploring what by-products, loss or waste occurs along the beer, hazelnut, wine, potato, and seaweed value chains in the different countries and what elements might have upcycling potential. The project is testing and developing environmentally friendly and high yielding methods for extracting proteins from these sources and studying the textures and cooking behaviours of food created using these proteins. It is also assessing whether there are any food-safety related risks, and exploring consumers’ attitudes towards upcycled plant and seaweed proteins and how these attitudes vary by location, age and gender among other properties.

Prof. Tanya Stathers said: ‘It is important that we think about how all along our food systems we can valorise and prevent the loss of vital nutrients and materials with all kinds of other functions, from being tipped into waste bins and left to rot.’ Tanya is Professor of Sustainable Agri-Food and Postharvest Systems and Practice at NRI and one of the lead scientists on the project.

Photo6From 26-27 October, the University of Parma’s Food and Drug Department and the Experimental Station for the Food Preserving Industry - SSICA hosted the IPSUS project’s mid-term meeting at their campuses in Parma. The meeting pulled together and compared the exciting findings emerging around the specific scale and sources of loss, waste and by-products of the project focal commodities across the different countries and the challenges associated with them. A systematic review of current knowledge and gaps on food safety risks associated with different protein sources highlighted the limited size of the evidence base. Initial findings of the comparative efficiency, risks and costs of different protein extraction methods for the various focal raw materials were discussed. Designs for the large-scale multi-country survey exploring consumers’ understanding of upcycled ingredients and their current willingness to pay for products developed from them were also shared. Upcycling of food presents an opportunity to address the massive challenge of food waste while delivering environmental benefits.

The IPSUS project is funded by national governments through the European Commission’s SUSFOOD2 FOSC initiative, with DEFRA funding the UK work.