It all started with a huge bowl of guacamole.
Sheetal Bahirat was in a lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia three years ago when she realized that, for all the pulp she got out of a case of avocados, she was throwing away almost the same amount of substance with the discarded skins and seeds. “When you do one avocado, you don’t realize how quickly it adds up until you see it altogether.”
With twenty-four avocados? You realize it.
“Then your’re like, oh my god, that’s half of this case – half of it’s something I’m not using,” Bahirat said.
Avocado pits were the tinder that pushed Bahirat and business partner Zuri Masud to start Reveal, an iced tea-like beverage made from avocado pits, which they started producing at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton this year.
A nationwide food waste problem was the fuel: Food waste is estimated at between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Wasted food is the single largest category of material in municipal landfills and represents nourishment that could’ve helped feed hungry families, according to the USDA. And the water, energy and labor used to produce the wasted food? It could have been used for other purposes.
“[We wanted] to figure out creative ways to use the parts of food that others don’t use right now. We felt there was this whole section that was being overlooked, and just because we don’t traditionally eat these things doesn’t mean they’re not nutritious or valuable,” Bahirat said.
Five years into the avocado craze, the fruit – previously a rarity on menus, and now a near constant – is admired by many for its nutritional content. According to Masud, however, a vast majority of the antioxidants in avocados are actually available in the pit and the peel—not the pulp.
“You only get about 5 percent in the pulp,” Masud explained. “It’s being able to access it in what you look at as trash … this is a really creative and great way to use this thing that people look at as trash.”
Bahirat and Masud are both food scientists, the former with a master’s in culinary arts and sciences and the latter with a master’s in food science. Bahirat’s thesis was on the potential of avocado seeds and how they can be saved from landfills; and along the way, the discoveries she made flipped a switch to the realization of some notable business opportunities.
“Fatty acids in the avocado are what they’re known for, and those are prone to oxidation. The thing that stops them from browning is the fact that there’s a lot of really powerful antioxidants in the seed and peel,” Bahirat said.
She found that avocado seeds extract heavy metals from water, too, when boiled together – and after a series of other ideas and trials – Bahirat and Masud determined that brewing avocado pits like tea, adding flavors, and cooling it down proved to be the best business idea to serve their landfill-lightning, health-promoting goals.
After working with the Drexel Food Lab during and after their schooling – and continuing to work with its incubator even today – the two food scientists found the Rutgers Food Innovation Center last summer when searching for a facility to grow their business idea into Reveal. While Drexel has been around for much of the drink’s product development, the FIC has been integral in scaling Reveal and taking the prototype to something that can be sold in the market.
On Aug. 14, they sold the product for the first time. It’s now available in three flavors on convenience app GoPuff, at Riverwards Produce in Fishtown, Pa., and as of October, on their website and on specialty food site Barnraiser.
Just last week, Masud was at the Food Innovation Center picking up some cases of avocado pits, along with a new ingredient – she didn’t share which – gifted to the Reveal duo by another FIC tenant who didn’t need what they had in stock.
“Otherwise it would have ended up in the trash, and that’s very anti-our company. So if we can use it, we definitely will,” Masud said.
“There’s also so many other companies that come out of [the Food Innovation Center]. I’m excited to meet all the other people that work there,” Bahirat said. “There’s a wealth of knowledge amongt all of the other founders that we can get connected to.”
As for the pits, where do they source them, and what happens with them after Reveal is brewed?
Right now, they work with four restaurants in Philadelphia and soon begin working with Giant Heirloom, Giant Supermarkets’ smaller footprint urban-centered banner. Masud reconnected with restaurant contacts she’d worked with in the industry when she worked in it herself, and connected with their contacts, too. They source the pits from the restaurants and pick them up by the case. When Masud or Bahirat meet a new rep for one of their supplier restaurants – perhaps a server who just hasn’t heard of what they’re doing –they’re confronted with confusion and then curiosity.
“The first response we got was ‘oh, you want the avocados?’ and we were like, ‘no, we want the seeds.’ That kind of made their ears perk up. There’s some level of confusion in the beginning, and then a billion questions follow,” Masud said.
As for the pits, you can crush one with two fingers after they’re done with it.
“It’s a very soft pit that we then compost for now,” Masud said. “Ideally, we’d like to be able to get some more out of it before getting it into the compost system, but usually you’re not able to compost them at all because they’re too hard.”