From Grapes To …Flour?

New products being created from the leftovers of winemaking.

Don Coe knew there had to be a better way to utilize “waste” from winemaking.

The owner of Black Star Farms was taking the residue – namely seeds and skins – and adding it to the fields as a natural organic fertilizer. He thought there had to be some better way to utilize it.

He contacted William Koucky, owner of Grand Traverse Culinary Oils, and the two hatched an idea. Two ideas, actually. One was to press the grape seeds to make grape seed oil, an increasingly popular choice for low-fat cooking. It’s also used in the cosmetic industry.

The other was to grind seeds and grape skin pomace into flour. Coe had previously read about the process pioneered at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. “I contacted them, but never heard back,” he said.

For his part, Koucky was interested. “I was already going to do grape seed oil, but when he said skin and flour, I was intrigued,” Koucky said. So after last fall’s grape harvest, they went ahead on their own, experimenting with various combinations and trying to determine their marketability.

Koucky said they had to figure out how to clean and separate the seeds, skin and stems, the latter of which are discarded. He was able to modify a machine he already had and now can separate about a ton an hour.

Next came the challenge of drying the skins, followed by grinding the remainder into a powder. While they were able to use an older piece of equipment Koucky had restored years ago for the grinding process, he says drying the material is still the major issue.

“The seeds and skins are very wet when they come in, so we are in the planning stages to have something in place for the fall harvest that is more efficient,” said Koucky.

The oil they have created is co-branded, marketed as Black Star Farms/Grand Traverse Culinary Oils Red Grape Seed Oil. It is available for purchase at Black Star Farms. The flour is currently being used in various breads, rolls and other products at the Hearth & Vine restaurant at Black Star Farms. It is not yet available for purchase, and the two are not yet sure exactly how they will proceed, whether it will be sold as an additive or premixed with wheat flour.

The flour is a darker color than traditional wheat flours. The exact color depends on the ratio of skin to seeds. “The skin (flour) is very bright – it’s Barney purple,” said baker Ray Priebe.

It is gluten-free and high in antioxidants. It lends a slightly nutty flavor to the resulting products. “I know it will become a really nice pizza dough,” said Priebe.

Coe sees the flour being utilized in different ways, depending on factors such as marketability and availability. One is to add it to in-house products only; another is to wholesale it and have it co-branded by other bakeries. A third is to sell it via mail-order for home baking.

Koucky sees opportunities abroad, particularly in China. He’s had conversations with an MSU biochemist with whom he is working on another project. The biochemist told him the Chinese are not comfortable with their own food chain and will pay huge premiums for American foods.

He also sees possibilities incorporating it with emmer wheat as a pasta flour. Emmer is an ancient variety of wheat he is growing this year, similar to what is grown in Italy for pasta. “We would add the skin and seed flour to the pasta to make a flavored and nutritionally enhanced pasta. I have made some and it is really good,” he said.

Coe says any way to utilize what had been strictly a waste product will benefit him and potentially the industry as a whole. “It’s waste stream products from agriculture. There’s nothing to stop other wineries if we can get downstream value for it.”

One potential stumbling block is the size of the crop. The fewer grapes that are harvested, the less pomace and seeds they have to work with, making it difficult to ramp up the process with any hope of making a profit. With last year’s small crop and the uncertainty of what will happen this year, there’s no way to predict how quickly the two will be able to move ahead with any large-scale success.

Coe and Koucky say the entire process has been one experiment after another. “There is no manual on how to do this, and there are a huge amount of variables, but that is what makes it fun,” said Koucky. “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”