Imagine a world where cakes stay moist after sitting out on the counter for a week, where a pound of ground beef costs $2 and where paper is not made out of trees. Welcome to food science professor Samir Amin’s universe, which he lovingly calls, “carrot stuff.”
For the past two years, Amin has been researching innovative ways to reuse the carrot waste that comes from carrots that are peeled and sculpted to create cylindrical baby carrots or from carrots that have been pressed and juiced.
Up to 40 percent of the food supply is estimated to be wasted in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service.
The USDA joined forces with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 to set a goal to cut down America’s food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030. Big food industries responded to this goal by seeking additional uses for discarded byproducts.
Prior to working at Cal Poly, Amin saw large scale food waste firsthand. Amin worked in product development for a food company in Southern California. Amin said he was aware of the sheer amount of waste generated from food manufacturing.
Amin said he was inspired to focus his research on carrots after speaking with a representative from Bolthouse Farms, a farm company located in Bakersfield. Bolthouse Farms specializes in refrigerated beverages and presses whole carrots for their carrot juice.
“I could see [semi-trailer trucks] coming and filling up with carrot waste,” Amin said. “And I thought, ‘What are the valuable nutrients in carrot waste?’”
So Amin began his research on “carrot stuff.”
How “carrot stuff” is applied
Amin first looked at published research to see what may have already been done with carrot waste.
Carrot pomace and carrot mash are two forms of carrot waste. Carrot pomace is waste left from juicing whole carrots while carrot mash is waste left from the production of baby carrots.
Amin found that most research had been done on carrot pomace, while little research had been done on carrot mash.
Last spring, Cal Poly graduate Ali Duval worked with Amin on her senior project after receiving the USDA National Needs Fellowship in Food Waste. Together, they tried to use carrot mash to increase the nutritional value of beef patties.
They found that carrot mash was made of 90 percent water and tried drying the mash to see if it could be added to another food product. When Amin and Duval compared their patties to a control patty with no mash, they discovered there was no significant difference in texture.
“The mash actually held on to more water and fat within the burger,” Amin said. “This would give you a juicier burger.”
Mixing carrot mash with beef patties could have a potential health benefit and lower the cost of meat for those who may not be able to afford it as well.
Carrot mash and pomace contains carotenoids — compounds that give carrots their orange color. The human body breaks down beta carotene compounds into vitamin A, while the burger also provides a boost of fiber.
Students also played around with adding carrot pomace to cake mix. Food science junior Lindsey Zenker was one of the undergraduates who worked with Amin to achieve this.
“The hope was that it would retain moisture so that it would have a longer shelf life and more vitamin A so there would be a nutritional boost,” Zenker said.
The biggest challenge is trying to get carrot pomace or mash to be food grade, Amin said. The carrot waste provided is not considered to be food grade. Sensory testing is required for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the product.
To get FDA approval, the manufacturer must put carrots through testing to prove to the FDA that the additive is safe.
“We can show that it has this beneficial effect on a hamburger patty, but until we’re able to get people to try it and say, ‘Yes, I don’t taste any difference,’ it’s hard to say that this would be viable for [mass production],” Amin said.
Amin and Zenker said they believe carrot waste research is a big step in encouraging additional research on food waste and improving nutrition.
After graduation, Zenker said she hopes to continue working on food waste research to improve nutrition.
“We are already in the movement to utilize waste products and turn it into something humans can continue using,” Zenker said. “These carrots are still usable, so why not turn them into something new?”
Zenker said she has an idea for making a vegetable-based cookie for children’s lunches that is prepackaged and shelf stable.
The movement for more sustainable food has already begun. Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger is made entirely out of plant-based substitutes. The creation of a vegan burger allows food waste researchers like Amin to take another step forward in using food waste.