Since he began brewing beer as a hobby in college, Daniel Kurzrock has been obsessed with the question of what to do with the leftover matter it creates. And he’s turned that obsession into a career, as the “chief grain officer” at ReGrained, a food company with a 5,000-square-foot warehouse on Berkeley’s Ninth Street.
Kurzrock was still in graduate school when he founded ReGrained, and in 2014 he cold emailed the USDA’s Albany-based Agricultural Research Service (ARS) with his concerns with the enormous amount of waste created by breweries. To his surprise, the ARS invited him in for a visit. And thus began the partnership that built the ReGrainery, a machine that processes “spent grain” left behind in the brewing process, drying it out and turning it into a byproduct that can be then milled into flour.
The ReGrainery can’t be described in too much detail, Kurzrock told Nosh, as the Berkeley machine is the only one of its kind in the world. All Kurzrock will share about it is that it uses a thermomechanical process to process fresh brewers grain safely and efficiently, turning them into food ingredients. The device was developed with the ARS’s Healthy Processed Foods Research Unit, which has a mandate to create food out of plant-based waste. Kurzrock and the ARS have filed a joint patent and co-own the technology.
Kurzrock is the first to admit that “spent grain” isn’t the sexiest name for something he wants people to be excited about eating. He sees it as an “incredible resource” full of nutrition, like protein and dietary fiber. He compares it to whey, the byproduct left over during the cheesemaking process.
“The main reason these spent grains haven’t been a thing is because it’s difficult to process them safely and efficiently at scale,” Kurzrock said.
This is where this new machine comes in.
One of the reasons beer-brewing creates so much waste is because, post-brewing, those grains are a wet, soggy mass. They’re 80% to 90% moisture, and if it doesn’t get used within ten to twelve hours, it begins to spoil. As of now, many microbrewers in rural areas trade their spent grain with local farms; it can be given to farm animals as food, and sometimes, those farms will even barter with it, trading meat the brewery can serve patrons in exchange for the feed.
“Eighty percent of it goes to animal feed, so much of it is being used, but it’s a lower use,” Kurzrock said. “What we’re trying to promote is the highest use, by feeding people.” And with the still-burgeoning craft beer movement, there are now countless microbreweries in every American city, many without a nearby farm to consume that byproduct. Within the brewing industry, there is still a large amount of grain that goes to landfill, and then breaks down into methane. Quoting an often cited statistic, Kurzrock said that “if food waste were to be measured as a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gasses after the United States and China.”
Kurzrock points out that sometimes it just takes marketing prowess and a change in public perception for something to be seen as fit for human consumption. The blue corn that is now often seen in tortilla chips used to be fed mostly to animals, for example, and the whole-grain millet, which was once mostly used for bird seed, is on the rise as another gluten-free grain. Both are products whose perception has changed over time.
When listening to Kurzrock, who speaks so passionately and knowledgeably about just how wasteful such a large, established industry is, one can’t help but wonder why it took a home-brewing college student to be the first person to try to address it. For his efforts, he was named to Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in the Food & Drink category in 2018.
Food was never wasted in his Peninsula household growing up, Kurzrock said, and when he began brewing beer as a hobby, he was astounded to learn just how much waste it created. Brewing just 5 gallons of beer, he created 15 to 20 pounds of material that he had to throw out. Living then in a fraternity house at UCLA, he had nowhere to compost it, even. He began to research what other brewers did and found that baking bread was the most common use, so even though he didn’t have much baking experience, he began experimenting with spent grain loaves.
In 2013, he founded ReGrained with childhood friend Jordan Schwartz, and launching as a nutrition bar company that used spent grains as a major ingredient. (Schwartz has since moved on.) In 2019, ReGrained moved into its Berkeley space, assisted by investments from some major players in the beer industry, including the Molson-Coors Beverage Company.
Kurzrock has also done two rounds of equity crowd funding, allowing customers who believe in the product to invest in the company to help get him where he is now. Barilla pasta company is another investor, and while he can’t divulge what might come out of it, Kurzrock went to Parma, Italy, in 2017 to work on some R&D with them.
Other major investors include Griffith Foods and the Japanese company, Oisix. “The way we’ve sought out funding has helped us preserve the mission-driven aspect of what we’re doing,” Kurzrock said.
Eventually, ReGrained hopes to partner with breweries who will have their own machines on site, so the spent grain doesn’t have to be trucked over to Berkeley to be processed. But at the same time, ReGrained isn’t planning on going into the sales of ReGrainery machines. The hope is that as awareness continues to rise, brewery owners will consider reuse of their refuse as part of their operation, and will upcycle their spent grains in-house.
Other partnerships are in the works with more local companies; two that can be announced now are Firebrand Artisan Breads and the Marin-based Tia Lupita Foods. While the specifics of what they’re doing together can’t be announced quite yet, Tia Lupita’s founder and CEO Hector Saldivar said, “we’re collaborating and focusing on helping save the planet one taco at a time.”
Kurzrock also partners with existing brands by getting them to experiment with his flour. He sent me home with a pizza dough mix to try as well as a brownie mix, both of which should be available on ReGrained’s website by the end of the year. I really enjoyed the flavor of the pizza dough, which made for a dark brown crust with an earthy, whole-grain flavor, slightly reminiscent of buckwheat; the fermented tang was noticeable, but not at all in a bad way.
“Back in 2012, when we started making our first product line of nutrition bars, Kurzrock said, “I would have told you our goal was not to be a bar company, but instead to have a beloved bar brand incorporate our ingredients into their line. Now our commercial scale ingredient business is doing exactly that.”