Austria-based Kern Tec entered the upcycling food sector after its co-founders discovered that over 500,000 tonnes of fruit pits from cherries, plums, apricots, and peaches go to waste every year in Europe. After investigating further through papers, conversations with farmers and research institutes, the startup learned that fruit pits offer a high nutritional value, with many healthy fats and proteins.
The brand’s vision quickly became focused on upcycling these side streams and creating valuable and functional products for the food industry.
Choosing stone fruits
Kern Tec chose to transform stone fruits into functional raw materials as it identified that with the necessary technology in place, it could develop a new nut without the footprint of existing, ordinary nuts.
“The seeds offer a great taste, have a very interesting nutritional profile and consume less water than any alternative,” says Luca Fichtinger, founder and managing partner, Kern Tec.
The seeds’ nutritional profile is made up of 25% proteins and 50% unsaturated fats.
Ingredients-wise, Kern Tech uses 100% of its raw materials, Fichtinger says. Its proteins and oils go to different applications in the food industry while the shell product is used in various applications, such as an alternative to microplastics in the cosmetics industry.
Developing a process for fruit pip upcycling
The B2B manufacturer and processor of cherry, apricot, apricot, plum, damson and many other fruit stones centred its research and development (R&D) around “two major problems”, Fichtinger says.
Firstly, the brand sought to understand the processing technology requirements of converting these raw materials into functional ingredients, which involves mechanical and biochemical processes. Secondly, Kern Tec needed to know how to develop unique food products out of the raw materials that consumers love. These problems are the reason why these raw materials have never been upcycled before, Fichtinger says.
After overcoming these hurdles, the brand can now apply its mechanical and biochemical processes to various fruit pits, including apricot, cherry, plum and peach. Once the pits are mechanically opened, Kern Tec sorts the seeds to a food-grade quality and then turns the inner seeds into different food products, such as high-quality oils, protein powders and dairy alternatives. The biochemical process was invented to extract cyanide inside some fruit seeds and turn them into safe ingredients for human consumption.
The brand has developed its own processing equipment for mechanical and biochemical processes. However, in some processing steps, it can also use existing technologies off the shelves, for oil production, for example.
The greatest challenge: Removing cyanide
The greatest challenge facing Kern Tec when turning typically discarded fruit pits into functional raw materials, was the treatment of cyanides in the seeds.
“We conducted hundreds of experiments in our labs and [had] almost given up on this topic,” says Fichtinger.
However, the startup found a process that can extract toxic substances from raw materials without affecting the nutritional profile and taste, Fichtinger continues.
“The now patented technology can also treat other cyanide polluted raw materials such as bitter almonds, flax seed proteins and many more,” adds Fichtinger.
Some fruit seeds contain a certain amount of cyanide, says Fichtinger. Like with potatoes, the consumption of the raw product can be harmful. However, once Kern Tec has processed the seeds for different products, they are safe to eat, Fichtinger says.
Nutty with an amaretto aroma
Kern Tec’s functional raw materials are used in various food applications. The brand states it has seen a great fit in the dairy alternative segment, for example. It has also seen significant demand in the bakery and confectionary industry, where companies request proteins, oils, and chocolate spreads.
With the end consumer in mind, Kern Tec developed the raw material’s functional properties, including taste, texture, flavour, and nutritional profile. Stone fruits are within the same botanical family as almonds.
As a result, the seeds have a similar taste, texture and flavour, but also nutritional profile, Fichtinger says. They are very nutty and offer an amaretto aroma. The brand strives to ensure optimum taste, functionality and sustainability to meet consumer expectations.
At present, Kern Tec has reached price parity with ordinary nuts, Fichtinger says, but in the long run, it will be able to produce at lower costs than comparable products.