CIA/Phil Mansfield

The spent grain left over from brewing beer, often disregarded or used for livestock feed, can actually serve as a great base for a plethora of nutritious recipes.

Is the Grain Left Over from Brewing Really Spent?

It started out as a simple curiosity. After picking up a brewing kit, I thought to myself, “Heck, I might as well try to brew a batch of beer.” Soon after, the culinary side of my brain was piqued. There had to be something you could do with the grain that was left behind, something other than loading up a farmer’s truck or tossing it into the waste stream.

As a chef, I’m always thinking about using ingredients in unexplored ways in an effort to reduce waste. The brewer’s spent grain turned out to be a triple play from that angle. That was the inspiration behind our presentation at this past June’s Menus of Change leadership summit. Myself, Professor Doug Miller, and Hutch Kugeman, head brewer at the new Brewery at the CIA, talked about “Spent Grain, The Triple Play” in front of some of the industry’s leading thought producers. The goal was to get them thinking about spent grain as a possible solution to many of the concerns discussed during the three-day conference. Chiefly among them, better-for-you, healthier ingredients, and reduced food waste.

A statistic that often gets floated around the industry is that 40 percent of food grown never ends up being eaten. With that in mind, consider these numbers: According to The Brewers Association, craft beer consumption was up 13 percent in 2015 and 1.8 breweries opened every day. Undeniably, the math is adding up to a whole lot of spent grain available. As a definition, spent grain is what remains after the mash extracts the sugars into the wort (the liquid that becomes beer), leaving the bran, most of the protein, and some nutrients. Back when I first tried my hand at brewing, I wanted to see how this product could work in recipes for human consumption, not just for livestock feed or dog biscuits. It wasn’t until later on that I really began to understand the conversation went even deeper. Published research has shown that the health benefits are immense. Spent-grain products have increased protein and amino acids, fiber content, and levels of minerals. In our own analysis, our spent-grain pizza dough had more zinc, iron, and protein than the plain variety.

As for how to use it exactly, I’m really only starting to scratch the surface. I will typically take a tub of spent grain from Hutch and dry it. I’ll use a dehydrator or oven to remove the moisture and keep it from souring. If I want to store it as fresh wet spent grain, I’ll bag it and freeze it to maintain its freshness. I can then mill it to flour or use the fresh whole.

At the CIA, we’ve really deployed it mostly in the breakfast arena. Our spent grain waffle is selling well at The Line—the kitchen classroom where my students serve breakfast. One thing we’re also working toward is trying to incorporate spent grain into a blended meat dish.

This isn’t a new idea, either. Indian cuisine in several regions has a flour mixture called sattu that is a mixture of ground pulses (like chick pea flour) and toasted barley (other grains may be substituted depending on the region in India). 

As always, taste is going to be key. When we served the waffle, pizza, and a granola bar made with spent grain at Menus of Change, we asked if anyone could tell the difference. Few could. With the proper handling and some experimentation, spent grain can be a nutritious, delicious, and environmentally conscious ingredient to cook with. And best of all, we’re just getting started. 

George Shannon is a lecturing instructor of culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Chef Shannon teaches breakfast cookery as part of the Non-Commercial Foodservice and High-Volume Production course.