Get to Know Renewal Mill
Renewal Mill cookies are a favorite at the Good Use office. They’re waste fighting, full of protein & fiber, and most importantly, delicious. We chatted with Caroline, COO, to learn about okara (the magic ingredient!) and the inspiration behind the brand.
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What's your role at Renewal Mill?
I’m Caroline Cotto, and I’m the Chief Operating Officer at Renewal Mill.
What's the story or inspiration behind Renewal Mill?
Claire Schlemme, CEO of Renewal Mill, first came face-to-face with the issue of food waste when she co-founded Boston’s first organic juice company, Mother Juice. At the end of each day, they were left with a mountain of nutritious produce pulp. Claire knew that throwing away this pulp was a waste of the resources used to grow the fruits and vegetables, but she just didn’t have a solution. Then, while getting her Masters at Yale, Claire met Minh Tsai, the owner of the largest artisanal tofu factory in the US (Hodo Foods). Minh explained that he too had a pulp waste problem, just at manufacturing scale.
Motivated by this problem, Claire set out to find a sustainable food waste solution. When she learned about okara, the byproduct of soymilk production, that’s when the lightbulb went off: “What if we could use this byproduct to both reduce food waste and provide affordable nutrition?” And, Renewal Mill was born.
What makes your flour different?
Okara flour is an extremely versatile ingredient. It has a very neutral flavor and is light in color allowing it to blend easily into most flour-based products, including pasta, pancake mix, and cookies. Okara flour can be used on its own in gluten-free formulations or in blends with other flours to add a punch of nutrition to a wide array of products.
Okara flour is milled through a very similar process to wheat flour and has a comparable shelf-life to an all-purpose flour. It’s also incredibly nutritious - it is roughly two-thirds fiber and one-third protein. Compared to white flour, okara flour is very low in net carbs (88g versus 6g per serving), and using okara flour is easy. Substituting 25% of the volume of wheat flour with okara flour in most recipes will create a product with the fiber and protein of a whole wheat but the taste and appearance of a refined white flour. For gluten-free application, okara flour can replace the main alternative flour (like almond or rice) used in the blend, but should still be blended with starches and gums to create a full 1:1 replacement.
The chefs we work with have also had great success creating entirely new recipes using the okara flour as the main ingredient - from okara dumplings to pulled noodles to okara-stuffed puff pastries.
What is Okara?
Our initial ingredient is okara flour, a delicious superfood harvested from the soybean pulp leftover during soymilk & tofu production. With 20g of fiber and 7g of protein per serving, Renewal Mill’s okara is the first gluten-free flour with taste parity to all-purpose flour and price enabling mass market use. In its wet form, okara is actually a traditional East Asian ingredient, used in dishes like okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake. The word okara itself is a Japanese word that means “honoring the husk” or “honoring the whole bean.”
What's your favorite way to use Okara?
Our favorite thing to make with okara flour is cookies! Our head of product development, Alice Medrich, is a 5x James Beard Award Winning cookbook author who makes a delicious crispy coconut okara cookie. We also sell our soft-baked organic okara chocolate chip cookies (100% vegan) in the Bay Area - the perfect treat for your afternoon.
But, okara is also great in lots of flour-based applications: we love it in pasta, biscuits, pancakes, crackers, and vegan meats to name a few!
Where can people buy your products?
You can buy our products online at our website (www.renewalmill.com). You can also buy our flour through Imperfect Produce, and you can buy our cookies at a number of Bay Area grocery stores and coffee shops including Rainbow Grocery, Howden Market, Covo, and Paradise Park Cafe. We also partner with Good Use Foods, so their customers can get cookies delivered directly to their offices!
Do you have plans to add any new okara based products?
Yes, we do! We are expanding distribution of our vegan okara chocolate chip cookies this year and are planning to bring additional cookie flavors to market. We are also looking at bringing additional value added okara products to retail shelves like an okara gluten free baking blend (1:1 flour replacement) and an okara pancake mix.
More importantly, since Renewal Mill is an ingredients company, okara is just our first ingredient! This year we’ll be bringing our second ingredient to market, which will be the upcycled flour from another plant-based milk byproduct.
If you were a fruit or vegetable, which would you be?
If I were a fruit, I’d be an avocado - my mom used to joke that if she didn’t name me Caroline, she’d name me “ava” so my full name would be “Ava Cotto” haha! But also, I love the fact that avocados can be used in such diverse ways, for both sweet and savory dishes. I try to live my life in such a way that I’m can adapt to lots of different situations and cultures. And, I mean, who doesn’t love avocados!
Favorite ways to reduce waste at home?
In my kitchen, I make sure to compost and recycle, but I also make an extra conscious effort to use everything we buy. There’s a great app run by some friends of mine called Cooklist that can help you figure out what to make with what you have in your fridge. If I’m going to be traveling for work, I make sure to freeze any uneaten produce or cook it into meals I can freeze for later. If I still have leftover food I can’t eat, l’ll share with my housemates or friends.
And, of course, we keep okara stalked on our pantry shelves! I love substituting okara in my favorite “Superhero Muffins” recipe.
Why is food waste a big deal? And important to combat?
Food waste is a big deal because it has a huge environmental impact. In the US, almost 40% of food produced is never consumed, and food waste is contributing significantly to global climate change. In fact, if global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind only China and the US. We produce enough food to feed everyone, but it really comes down to a problem of waste and access. To preserve the environment for future generations and to be able to feed the world’s growing population in a sustainable way, we have a moral imperative to reduce the amount of food waste we’re currently producing.
Favorite part about working for a small food business?
So many things! My favorite part about working for a small food business is how dynamic my job is. No two days are the same, and I’m constantly learning something new. I also love working for a mission-driven company where I feel like I’m making a tangible impact on the world and the environment, and I get a lot of satisfaction from sharing good food with all the people I meet. Food brings people together, and I love that I work for company helping further facilitate conversation about what we eat and what it means.