By Jon Griffin
One of the questions I am asked most often is, "What can I do with my spent grains?" Well, depending where you live, the answer can be anything from, not much, to, many different things. This article will focus on using your spent brewing grain for cooking, specifically making cookies and bread. Almost everyone can utilize this technique and if you don't bake (and you really should), you probably know someone who does.
Qualities of Spent Brewers Grain
The first thing that needs to be clarified is the definition of spent grains. For anyone reading this article who is not an all-grain brewer, spent brewers grains are the residue left after the sugar has been removed from the grains in the wort-making process. This is almost always malted barley, but can also include corn, wheat, rice, or other cereals. Please note that for the purposes of this article I am also not considering the steeping grains that are left after extract brewing (they have too much sugar left since they are not truly "mashed"). That is to say, spent brewers grains have very little residual sugar left in them. Simply steeping the grains in a tea like many extract based recipes call for leaves most of the sugars intact. They can certainly still be used, and they retain all of the nutritional properties of spent grains, but the sugars need to be taken into account in the recipe.
Composition of Spent Brewers Grain
What exactly is the composition of spent brewing grains? Believe it or not, spent brewers grain has been studied, and at least in the case of barley, has a high fiber and protein content. As mentioned above, the carbohydrate (sugar) content is mostly gone, but the bran, husk and embryo are left intact and have definite nutritional benefits that could be exploited by the food industry to increase a food products dietary fiber and protein levels.
Glycemic index of barley, wheat etc
Since little or no sugar is left in properly mashed brewers grains, there is no glycemic index. In fact, being mostly fiber and protein the use of spent brewers grains can actually raise the glycemic index of the foodstuff being supplemented.
Good for Your Heart
As of December 2005 the FDA ruled that barley, like oats, has a beneficial effect on heart health, specifically reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. The ruling cited scientific evidence that eating barley containing foods, which contain at least .75 grams of soluble beta-glucan fiber per serving, can be labeled as having a cholesterol lowering effect, specifically lowering both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (FDA, 2006).
Traditional Uses for Spent Brewers Grain
Commercial breweries have a much larger problem with spent brewing grains. Many breweries partner with a local pig farm and have the farmer transport the grain for use as feed. This can work in smaller scale breweries, but you can imagine the amounts of spent grains at large breweries. Another common use, especially for home brewers, is using the grains for compost. This works well for those of us that have gardens. The grain can either be added to a compost pile, or simply laid in a thin layer over the garden. Several commercial breweries are also experimenting with large scale composting.
Coors Brewing Company is donating some of their spent brewing grains to the Colorado Division of Wildlife for use in feeding hundreds of deer in the Gunnison Valley (SCRwire, 2007). Coors also sells 600 million pounds of wet spent grains and converts its spent yeast slurries and waste beer into fuel grade ethanol (Molson Coors Brewing, n.d.).
Heineken has taken the uses for spent brewing grains one step farther and actually has a process for converting the spent grains into two separate products. Heineken removes the fiber to create a product for sustainable thermal energy, while the non-fiber component, which is high in protein and fats, is used as traditional animal feed (Schwencke, 2005).
Sierra Nevada Brewing not only gives the spent brewing grains to the local livestock ranchers, but they also incorporate the trub, hops, and yeast into the spent grains providing even higher protein content (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., n.d.).
Using Spent Brewers Grains in Baking
One study in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing (2002) determined that spent brewers grain could be used successfully to supplement the fiber content of cookies. The study concluded that, contrary to what most people would think, medium and coarse particle size produced the best result. The study also mentions that using more than 15% spent brewers grains resulted in a marked deterioration of the cookie quality (Öztürk, Özboy, Cavidoglu, & Köksel, 2002).
This leads to an interesting twist on the traditional uses of spent brewing grains. Instead of using the grains for fertilizer or animal feed, why not use them for baking? Cookies, muffins, breads, and even cakes and pies could all benefit from the fiber additions that spent brewing grains provide. It is also a practical way to use the grains if you do not have livestock or a garden.
I have already discussed a recipe that used spent grains from an extract beer (see Quasi Aussie Bush Bread), but that recipe relies on sugar being present in the grains. You could certainly use that recipe, but realize that you will be adding fiber, not flavor to the bread. I will be experimenting with grain size and content amount in the near future, and I will write another article focusing on my findings and have more recipes that have been tested.
Having alternatives for using spent brewers grains is a great benefit for home brewers as well as commercial brewers. Experimenting with different baked goods can improve both the nutritional and health values of baked goods, many of which lack fiber. Commercial brewers can also partner with bakeries and restaurants to have alternatives to dispose of spent brewing grains. Instead of using the spent grains on livestock feed, scientific evidence supports the use of the spent grains to improve human food.
CSRwire. (n.d.). Coors Brewing Company to provide spent grain to aid deer feeding operation. Retrieved April 15, 2009, from http://www.csrwire.com/News/10892.html. FDA. (2006). FDA allows barley products to claim reduction in risk of coronary heart disease. Retrieved April 15, 2009, from http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/news/2005/NEW01287.html.
Molson Coors Brewing. (n.d). Waste reduction and recycling - Molson Coors Brewing Company. Retrieved April 15, 2009, from http://www.molsoncoors.com/responsibility/environmental-responsibility/….
Öztürk, S., Özboy, Ö., Cavidoglu, I., & Köksel, H. (2002). Effects of brewer's spent grain on the quality and dietary fibre content of cookies. J. Inst. Brew. vol.108:1 (2002) Effects of Brewer's Spent Grain on the Quality and Dietary Fibre Content of Cookies. Retrieved April 15, 2009, from http://www.scientificsocieties.org/jib/papers/2002/g-2002-0318-04R.pdf.
Schwencke, K. (2005). Treatment of brewers' spent grain; Upgrading by-products. Retrieved April 15, 2009, from http://meeting.mbaa.com/2005/program/abstracts/O-8.htm.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (n.d.). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Environmental Stewardship. Retrieved April 15, 2009, from http://www.sierranevada.com/environment/recycling.html.
© 2009 Jon Griffin