This post contains affiliate links.
Aldi knows how to shake up the food market with unique products. We’ve seen the discount grocer sell things as unusual as piñata cakes, 1980s retro cheese assortments, and green bean casserole pizza. Most of these products are interesting simply because they’re novel, and they serve no greater purpose other than to entertain us even as they feed us.
Sometime in early 2022, Aldi introduced some new everyday cookies that are not merely unique. They’re also “upcycled.” These cookies are marketed as being good for the environment because they reduce food waste. Specifically, these cookies use pulp that is left over after making oatmilk and tofu or soymilk.
Benton’s Upcycled Cookies cost $2.99 for a 3.5-ounce package (about 85 cents per ounce) at the time of publication. The cookies are a Regular Buy (core range product), which means you can find them at Aldi any time of year. You should spot them in the cookie aisle among the knockoff Girl Scout cookies and imitation Oreos.
The cookies come in Okara Chocolate Chip or Vanilla Oatmilk flavors. According to the Okara Chocolate Chip packaging, okara is “the nutritious pulp left over from tofu and soymilk production. The Vanilla Oatmilk cookies, meanwhile, contain “the nutritious pulp left over from oatmilk production.”
The packages for both cookie flavors contend that up to 40% of food is wasted worldwide, and that reducing food waste is “the fastest way to fight climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” They go on to argue that upcycling is a creative way to save food that might otherwise would be wasted, leading to a “positive impact economically and on climate change!”
Those sound like pretty bold claims, but I didn’t have to look far to learn that food waste is potentially linked to climate change. That’s because when food is thrown in landfills to rot, it emits carbon dioxide and contributes to greenhouse gases. According to the USDA, “EPA data show that food waste is the single most common material landfilled and incinerated in the U.S., comprising 24 and 22 percent of landfilled and combusted municipal solid waste, respectively.”
A vast amount of food waste comes from individual consumer households. Remember that salad you bought last week but forgot in the crisper drawer in your fridge, and now it’s slimy? Chances are you had to throw it out, assuming you weren’t able to compost it in a backyard bin.
It’s not just individuals, though. Certain commercial food products can also be problematic, since their manufacturing process leaves behind byproducts that can get dumped in landfills. Okara — also known as soy pulp, soybean curd residue (SCR), or tofu dregs — consists of the insoluble parts of the soybean after soybeans are filtered when making soy milk and tofu. While some okara is incorporated into Asian dishes or used as livestock feed or fertilizer, large quantities of it are either burned up or dumped into landfills, both of which pose environmental problems.
The pulp left after making oatmilk poses similar problems. Food producers don’t always know what to do with it besides throwing it out, which is where upcycling comes in.
These upcycled cookies are sold under the Benton’s private label, which is an Aldi house brand that the supermarket uses when contracting out with suppliers. In this case, the supplier is Fancypants Baking Co., which sells a line of Upcycled Cookies that include vanilla oatmilk cookies and okara chocolate chip cookies. Fancypants uses ingredients from Renewal Mill, which produces baking flours from the byproducts of various food production processes. Fancypants’ website cites some of the same statistics (40% of food is wasted) and uses the same imagery that appears on the Aldi cookie packages, including the picture of planet Earth with a smiley face and stick appendages.
Fancypants states that their cookies are available on Amazon, and that appears to be the only place you can buy the Fancypants upcycled cookies. I couldn’t find them when I searched on other major retailer sites such as Target and Walmart. That means that if you want to buy Fancypants cookies in a brick and mortar store, your best bet is probably the Aldi version. The Aldi cookies are the better deal, too; at the time of publication, Fancypants cookies on Amazon went for around $1.11 per ounce — compared to the 85 cents per ounce the Aldi cookies sold for — and were sold in bundles of three 6-ounce packages for $19.99.
These Aldi cookies aim to do something with the byproducts of oatmilk and tofu or soy milk production by upcycling them into something we can eat. The question is: are they any good?
Both flavors are crispy and crunchy, and the cookies are small enough you can easily eat them in one or two bites. The Okara Chocolate Chip cookies are a bit light on chocolate chips, but none of us found that to be a deal breaker. The Vanilla Oatmilk cookies, meanwhile, divided our household, with some people feeling like the mild vanilla flavor nicely complemented the oat taste, while others thought the Vanilla Oatmilk cookies had a bit of an odd taste.
I personally liked both of them and wouldn’t hesitate to buy either of these cookies again, although my family slightly prefers the chocolate chip version, which they said tastes like regular chocolate chip cookies.
Nutritionally, both Benton’s Upcycled Cookie flavors have 140 calories per four-cookie serving (31 grams). They have between 7 and 8 grams of total fat (9-10% DV), 3.5 grams of saturated fat (18% DV), 18 grams of total carbohydrates (7% DV), 10 grams of added sugars (20% DV), and 2 grams of protein. These cookies are also kosher.
In terms of allergens, the Vanilla Oatmilk cookies contain wheat, milk, and eggs, and they might also contain soy. The Okara Chocolate Chip cookies contain wheat, milk, eggs, and soy.
Benton’s Upcycled Cookies, made by Fancypants Baking Co., use food that might otherwise be thrown away and would contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The Okara Chocolate Chip cookies contain okara, a nutritious pulp left over after tofu and soymilk production, while the Vanilla Oatmilk cookies contain the nutritious pulp left over after oatmilk production. While our family was divided on the oatmilk cookies, everyone liked the chocolate chip ones.
These cookies are nearly $14 per pound. Perhaps those “upcycled” ingredients are better off used in livestock feed. That’s an obscene price for a cookie utilizing waste products.