While most bakers turn to pulses for plant-based protein in formulations, alternative flours made from food byproducts are gaining traction among baking and snack manufacturers. These flours, which are obtained from plants other than traditional grains or seeds, have a range of functional and nutritional benefits.

Spent grains

Also known as spent grains in the brewing world, alternative flours can be made from traditional grains that have already been used. They get upcycled by being given a second chance to be consumed.

Don Guerra, owner of Barrio Bread, Tucson, Ariz., works with local craft beer brewers such as Iron John’s Brewing Co. to source their spent grain, which typically gets discarded after brewing. He uses the spent grains with wheat flour to make a specialty loaf with a nutty, toasted flavor profile. The liquid is squeezed out of the spent grain before it’s folded into the dough.

“I reduce the added water, as about 30% of the liquid in the bread is now the wort in the spent grain,” Mr. Guerra said.

Spent grains used in this fashion often add some chewiness to the baked bread. This is likely due to the gelatinized starch in the wet grain.

A challenge in working with spent grain is that it spoils quickly. It is a concentrated source of carbohydrates, proteins and water, an ideal environment for microbial growth unless the grains are refrigerated, frozen or further processed quickly. Processing includes drying and milling the spent grain into flour, which is being done by a number of brewers and secondary processors who support regenerative food systems. The result is a high-protein, high-fiber flour with a distinctive flavor profile that complements many baked goods.

Rise Products Inc. produces and sells flour made from spent barley from beer. The flour contains about 25% protein and 40% dietary fiber. Flavor and color vary by style of beer.

“The brewing process extracts sugars and starches from malted barley, leaving behind the protein and the fiber,” said Bertha Jimenez, co-founder and chief executive officer of Rise Products. “Through our proprietary process, we turn this byproduct into a healthy, tasty, nutritious and sustainable flour.”

A lighter flour comes from the spent grains of ales and pilsners and has a nutty caramel flavor profile, while a dark flour is produced from porters and stouts. The darker product has coffee and chocolate notes.

Sunflower seeds

Other food byproducts have also found their way into flour form, providing bakers with more varied plant-based proteins. Planetarians produces defatted sunflower seed flour that is an upcycled byproduct from sunflower oil extraction.

“In the traditional process, the cake — a mix of seeds and up to 20% hulls — remaining after the oil extraction is used for feed, wasted or burned,” said Edgar Hernandez, Planetarians sales manager. “Planetarians developed technology to process the cake into a food-grade, high-quality protein flour.” The final flour is allergen- and gluten-free and contains 35% protein and 18% flour. It is also naturally non-G.M.O. and delivers a slightly nutty flavor.

“It works best as a partial replacement for traditional flour in most applications,” said Jamie Valenti-Jordan, strategic advisor of Planetarians. “The flour is dark and boldly artisan looking.”

Soybean pulp

Renewal Mill is all about upcycled ingredients. The company currently sells okara flour, which is a high-fiber, high-protein, gluten-free flour made from the soybean pulp generated during soymilk production.

“Okara flour is an extremely versatile ingredient with a very neutral flavor, which is described as slightly milky or nutty. It has a light color allowing it to blend easily into most flour-based products, including pasta, pancake mix and cookies,” said Claire Schlemme, c.e.o. of Renewal Mill. “Okara flour has a number of functional benefits, including having high water- and oil-binding abilities. This improves moisture retention and can lengthen shelf life of bakery products.”


Mushrooms may also serve as a source of plant protein. MycoTechnology is introducing shiitake fermented vegetable protein. It is a complete protein and considered comparable in protein quality to animal-based products, according to the company. It has a malted cereal taste and aroma that lends itself to most baked goods applications.

The proprietary fermentation process de-flavors the raw materials, removing off notes. It is also low in carbohydrates and fat, with most of the fat in the form of omega-3 fatty acids.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on alternative flours, click here.