When food innovator and value-adding expert Stuart Picken sees a challenge, it’s fair to say he’s driven to create a solution that benefits everyone involved. It’s this, coupled with a highly curious mind, that led the former lawyer and chef to establish a contract manufacturing business that specialises in upcycling farm gate seconds into nutrient-dense food products, with macadamias regularly in the mix.
Transforming seconds into first rate products
Based in the NSW Northern Rivers, one of Australia’s major macadamia growing regions, Stuart’s business Edenvale Foods invests a significant amount of time in research and development, and Australian grown macadamias have quickly become one of their most versatile ingredients. It was the insights Stuart gained while getting to know local nut and fruit growers that sparked the idea for his business.
“We were working with a few different farming operations, and I began lamenting all the agri-seconds that existed as a by-product of the market’s demand for perfect looking fruit and vegetables,” he explains.
“We have beautiful produce in Australia and that’s great. But there’s a lot of product that is classed as seconds, and we wanted to find a way to process these ingredients because they still offer a lot in terms of nutrition and taste,” Stuart says.
“It’s much better to capture the nutritional benefits of those fruits and nuts to benefit human health than have them go to compost, or worse, landfill. So I became interested in exploring how we could assist by upcycling farm seconds into nutrient-dense products with value.”
Getting the most out of macadamias
In addition to macadamias, Stuart works a lot with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and bananas. From a product formulation perspective, he says there are several characteristics of macadamias that make them a great addition to an ingredient list.
“Macadamias have a unique smoothness to them and a distinctive taste that matches well with other ingredients,” he says. “They roast really well, and you can achieve a very different flavour when using roasted versus raw kernel. I also love their oily mouthfeel – it works particularly well when we use them in snack bars.”
But it’s the versatility that macadamias offer beyond whole kernel that really interests Stuart, and it’s where he see untapped potential for product innovation.
“There are many grades of macadamias. Whole kernel attracts a premium price of course, but there are smaller styles too that can be more economical yet deliver just as much in terms of creating a great tasting, nutritional product,” he says.
Stuart and his team are also creating new products with what is known as ‘macadamia cake’ – the solid matter left over after kernel has been pressed to extract macadamia oil.
“What’s left once the oil has been extracted still has nutritional value, so we’ve been using that to develop protein balls and protein bars, as well as a delicious vegan cheese,” he says.
Making nut butter taste even better
Edenvale Foods’ ongoing research is delivering breakthroughs in terms of flavour innovation, particularly in the functional snacking and nut butter space.
“Nut butters are proving to be an excellent envelope for upcycled ingredients. We recently created a peanut butter with banana and honey, which was inspired by a desire to upcycle banana waste. Bananas produce a lot of waste and we’ve developed a process to transform it into a usable product, including the skins, in a way that still offers significant nutritional benefit to consumers.”
It’s a space he believes holds great promise for innovative macadamia butters too.
“We definitely have scope to add macadamias to the butter range. We want to try roasting them with other ingredients such as fruit powders to create a flavoured macadamia butter,” Stuart reveals.
Ripe for collaboration
“We’d be more than happy to work with anyone who wants to create some branded value-added macadamia products for both Australian and international markets,” says Stuart. “Our manufacturing facility is HACCP certified and USFDA compliant, with mixing and extrusion capabilities. We offer contract manufacturing, recipe formulation, nutritional panels, costing and sensory evaluation.”