Cabbage Cores, Coffee Dregs Get New Life as Japan Increasingly Upcycles Food Products

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kewpie Group has used cabbage cores to create such food products as minestrone and potage,

Efforts to upcycle food, or re-use food products that would otherwise be thrown away, are gaining momentum amid growing environmental awareness.

7 tons of cabbage cores

In June, Kewpie Group used cabbage cores to develop such food products as minestrone and potage, as part of its upcycling food initiative with the Co-Op Deli Consumers’ Co-operative Union based in Saitama.

Consumers can enjoy the coarse texture and unique sweetness of the ground cabbage cores. The products will be sold through a home delivery service for registered members, with about seven tons of cores expected to be used annually.

The core accounts for about 10% of the total weight of a cabbage. It’s usually thrown away, as cores are fibrous and hard. However, they’re also sweet and rich in dietary fiber, making them suitable for stewed cuisine.

“Customers empathize with our consideration for the environment,” said Toshiyuki Uechi of the Vegetable Innovation Department of Kewpie Corp.’s Institute of Food Creation.

Food delivery company Oisix ra daichi Inc. has been developing upcycled products since 2021. For example, the company sells arare rice crackers made from coffee dregs collected from the cafes run by Pronto Corp.

In its business collaboration with Choya Umeshu Co., Oisix ra daichi sold ume Japanese apricots used to make ume brandy as dried fruit. The company aims to increase its sales of upcycled food products to more than ¥2 billion by fiscal 2024.

Even artificial turf

Upcycling is called “creative re-use,” and some upcycled products are transformed into items other than food.

In 2018, Ito En, Ltd. and Mizuno Corp. jointly developed an artificial turf made by reusing tea leaves from the manufacturing process of Oi Ocha, an Ito En tea beverage. In 2021, the turf was used on the soccer field at Teikyo Nagaoka High School in Niigata Prefecture.

Used tea leaves from the equivalent of 430,000 PET bottles of Oi Ocha (525 milliliters) were mixed with resin to create chips. These proved more effective in suppressing surface temperatures on the field than regular chips made of black rubber.

Since June this year, Meiji Co. has been utilizing ground cacao bean husks as a molding material for products such as small containers and vases. These products also allow users to enjoy the sweet aroma of chocolate.

“This system can benefit both our customers and people in the cacao industry,” said Katsunari Matsuda, president of Meiji.

Used tea leaves and coffee grounds are considered inedible and do not come under the category of “food loss” as defined by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. However, there is a rising trend in the food industry to make effective use of items that would otherwise be thrown away, thanks to a growing awareness of “mottainai,” or “what a waste,” a term that encourages people to reduce, reuse and recycle.

According to market research firm Global Information, the global market for upcycled food products is expected to grow at an annual rate of more than 6.2% from now to 2029.

“This trend [of upcycling food] is also in line with consumers’ willingness in recent years to pay for value-added products,” said Tomohiro Ishikawa, a senior researcher at the Distribution Economics Institute of Japan.