A new snack created at the U of M is giving new life to food waste.
It’s called Planetarians, and it’s a crunchy sunflower chip made from oil cakes, the dry matter left over after oil is extracted from seeds. Normally, oil cakes are thrown out or fed to cows. But a year ago, Planetarians co-founders Aleh Manchuliantsau and Anastasia Tkacheva discovered that the cakes are 35 to 45 percent protein and contain more fiber than an apple.
After a high-temp, high-pressure “steam explosion” procedure, they puffed out, creating a chip with a texture crunchy enough to rival Cheetos, so the pair tried seasoning it and turning it into a snack. Now, they offer three flavors of Plantetarians: Sweetly Cinnamon, Fiery Sriracha, and Sweet & Smoky BBQ.
The concept might sound a little off-putting at first, something Planetarians’ co-founders realized before they launched in February. A term like “food waste” could turn stomachs, so they changed the language to describe the snack as an “upcycle meal.” (The upcycle economy propagates reuse, such as with packaging or home goods.)
“We turned that obstacle into our message,” Manchuliantsau says of the linguistic ick factor. “Some people come to it like a challenge.” He notes that people initially cringed at the idea of insect-based protein bars, too, but now there are tons of creepy-crawly-infused foods on the market.
It seems to have worked so far: Their first production run sold out on Amazon.
One of the big selling points of Planetarians is the high protein content of the chips: three times more protein, twice as much fiber, and 70 percent less fat than potato chips. The chips are baked, not fried, and are therefore heart-healthy to boot.
“When you need to put something into the backpack of your kids to send them into school or for your husband to send him to the office, now you have chips as good as a regular meal without any worries about junk food,” Manchuliantsau says.
Need more healthy buzzwords from your snacks? The crisps are plant-based, non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, lactose-free, low-glycemic, and kosher, making them munchable for vegans and folks with food allergies.
So forget the gag-inducing term “food waste.” This is the future of food science. The Planetarians team envisions a more agriculturally efficient world, one where we rely less on animal protein. If we made food from, and fed people with, what animals eat, we would use less land, produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve water.
Plus, by buying the chips, you help support developing technology that could feed 10 times as many people without growing more crops simply by repurposing by-products of the food industry. For every sample pack purchased, Planetarians donates a sample pack to kids in underserved communities. The company believes it can play a part in combating childhood obesity by offering kids a snack alternative with enough protein and fiber to satiate hunger, unlike the usual processed snack foods that are engineered to keep kids eating serving after serving.
Want to try a food waste-based crisp for yourself? Planetarians are available on the company’s website and on Amazon. The co-founders developed the chips at the University of Minnesota but now manufacture them two hours outside of Minneapolis.
Now, they hope to expand into retail. Manchuliantsau has been meeting with retailers like Whole Foods to get Planetarians in stores. He’s eyeing the West Coast market, particularly Colorado and California, where health food is most popular.
And they might be selling more than chips before long. Technology already exists to make high-protein pasta, flour, and baking mixes all from by-products, items that the Planetarians brand may offer in the future.