Food & Beverage Insider: Upcycled drinks combat climate change with whey, cascara, more

Food & Beverage Insider: Upcycled drinks combat climate change with whey, cascara, more

Published: April 12, 2024

Written by: Scott Miller

What leaps to mind when you hear the word “upcycled?” Maybe you think of refinishing old furniture, icky terms like “byproducts” or simply, “Huh?”

And who could blame you? Upcycling is a relatively new trend, though not as new as you might think. First coined in print in 1994, it describes the opposite of “downcycling,” the favorite sibling of the recycling process, where you smash up existing products to salvage the materials, often with a reduction in quality. With upcycling, the opposite is true: You take an existing product or material, usually perceived as leftover or unwanted, and remake it into something better. The word, however, is still misunderstood by many, who continue to portray the process as converting a product “from trash to treasure.”

Enter food waste, a growing global crisis. According to the UN Environment Programme’s 2024 Food Waste Index Report, humanity wasted one-fifth of its available food in 2022 — which amounts to more than a billion tons — and this type of waste generates nearly 10% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Upcycling, however, may hold answers.

Contrary to common belief, upcycling rarely if ever repurposes old or “used” food. The process typically involves collecting nutrient-dense byproducts or fresh leftover ingredients and using them to develop new products loaded with hidden benefits, both for your personal health and for the environment.

Embracing the power of upcycling is a tangible step toward reducing food waste and GHG emissions, but what about the products themselves? This slideshow highlights over a dozen remarkable (and delicious) upcycled products, and get this: They’re all potables, ranging from energy drinks to craft beer. Read on to learn about the challenges these innovators faced and overcame in formulating and selling upcycled beverages.


What it is: A functional energy drink crafted from upcycled cascara.  

How it started: “My fascination with upcycling cascara superfruit began during my exploration of coffee,” Simon Solis-Cohen, founder of Huxley, said. “Learning about the outer husk of the coffee bean, I discovered cascara's hidden potential as a natural source of caffeine and antioxidants.” 

What intrigued him most was cascara’s distinct flavor profile. Far from the taste of coffee, it boasts a light, fruity essence, plus plenty of health benefits. 

How it’s going: Huxley debuted at Natural Products Expo West 2024, so it hasn’t been on the market for long, but it’s already making a splash with its unique upcycled ingredient. 

“Cascara comes in various forms, and ensuring it dissolved properly without altering the color or overall taste posed a significant hurdle,” Solis-Cohen said. “Our formula, featuring 90 milligrams of caffeine, 5 grams of organic cane sugar and real fruit juice, has functional benefits from electrolytes for hydration and L-theanine to reduce caffeine crash and enhance focus … striking the perfect balance between taste and functionality.” 

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