Fruit peels and seeds usually end up in the trash. But a Mexican startup is beginning to transform this type of food waste into an ingredient they claim can make some processed foods–like cake–a little bit healthier.
“We’re substituting the functionality of some ingredients,” explains Flavio Siller, co-founder of the startup, called Eat Limmo. “In baking, the function of eggs is to bind things together, but that comes with cholesterol and oils. Our ingredient binds everything together using fiber–so you end up with more dietary fiber per portion, and fewer calories.” The plant-based ingredient can replace 40% of the eggs and oil in something like a cupcake.
Rather than fighting to change eating habits, the founders wanted to start to shift the nutritional content of processed foods that are already ubiquitous.
“There is a lot of processed food that isn’t nutritious, but it’s everywhere,” says Enrique Gonzalez, co-founder and CEO of Eat Limmo. “If you go to a little town here in Mexico, maybe there’s no running water or electricity, but you can find Twinkies. If you want to buy a healthy snack, it has a premium price. So we thought, what if we improve the composition of these processed foods?”
Cake made with the new ingredient still tastes like cake, the company claims. “You still have the same product,” Gonzalez says. “It’s just more nutritious. In some cases it tastes better–if you take out the flavor of the egg in a formulation, it might raise the flavor of the chocolate or vanilla.”
The fiber in the new ingredient also makes food last longer on the shelf, according to the company. “By binding the water together, you’re retaining freshness and making it more difficult for mold and other microbes to attack it, so it cannot be degraded that easily,” says Siller. A bakery can save money because products last longer (and the ingredient itself is also cheaper to use).
Of course, cake doesn’t magically become healthy without eggs and some of the fat and calories. But it’s an improvement. The nutritional benefits of the new ingredient have only been tested internally, but academic studies have suggested that fruit peels and seeds can be valuable replacements in processed food. The founders say they’re also working on replacements for sugar.
Over the last year, the startup built a pilot plant in Monterrey, Mexico, and now sell to local tortilla manufacturers and bakeries. They hope to eventually work with large manufacturers. “We want to move forward, working with chefs and food engineers to other applications to improve dairy products and meat,” says Gonzalez. “We’d like to improve every processed food.”
For vegans or anyone who wants to avoid the ethical dilemma of eating something made with factory-farmed eggs, the new ingredient may be a good excuse to eat cake. In Mexico, where 40 million tons of fruit peels and seeds are thrown out during processing every year, it’s also a way to start tackling the problem of food waste.