These Food Scientists Are Putting Avocado Seeds To Good Use
Sheetal Bahirat and Zuri Masud use avocado seed extract to create a healthy drink.
Avocados are arguably one of life’s greatest and most versatile pleasures. You can spread them on toast, whip up some guacamole, throw a couple slices in a salad, or just eat them solo dolo. In 2018, U.S. consumption of avocados even tripled from 2001 to eight pounds per person. No wonder there were so many millennial jokes there for a while.
But one issue avocado lovers run into is being left with a decent sized pit that is rarely ever eaten on its own. These pits, or seeds, usually end up in the garbage or take forever to break down when put whole into a composting system. And with more than 360 million pounds of avocados produced in the country every year, that’s a lot of waste.
So food scientists Sheetal Bahirat and Zuri Masud decided to do something about it. The duo founded Hidden Gems, a beverage company with a mission to create a more sustainable way of eating through using food waste, and in 2020, they launched Reveal, a new avocado seed brew.
“When you’re growing an avocado, you’re not only growing the pulp, you’re growing everything,” Bahirat says. “At the end of it, you take the pulp, you throw the rest of it away, and it just gets stuck in a really toxic environment. But once somebody gives it a little bit of love and gives it that space to reveal its hidden value, not only can it stop creating toxins entirely in the landfill, it can also create a beverage that’s super healthy for people.”
The co-founders met at Drexel University’s Food Lab in 2017, when Bahirat was getting her master’s in culinary arts and science and Masud was pursuing a master’s in food science. They both had a professor in charge of the lab, which was looking at food companies and restaurants to come up with creative solutions to food problems. “A lot of it had to do with upcycling,” Masud explains.
Upcycled foods contain ingredients that would normally be thrown away and contribute to unnecessary food waste. Bahirat believes avocados are the perfect example of how upcycling can be successful. During a project where guacamole was being made at the lab, Masud and Bahirat noticed the seeds were all going to waste. Bahirat even ended up writing her thesis on avocado seeds because she felt like there was a world of opportunity with them and discovered they were packed with antioxidants.
“It was figuring out exactly what are the nutrients in the avocado seed, how we can extract them, and to know whether it was safe for human consumption, and how we could potentially manufacture it at scale,” Bahirat says.
With Bahirat’s focus on food waste and Masud’s emphasis on recipe development, the two joined forces and started to formulate what was to become Reveal. The recipe started out as a tea bag, and then a hot tea, and now what it is today: a ready-to drink beverage made with avocado seed extract. The drink currently comes in three flavors including grapefruit lavender, mango ginger, and rose mint. Being the first of its kind, both founders described Reveal as “one gigantic challenge.”
“[This beverage] didn’t exist before and there was just no one that has done this before. So we’re talking about ‘Okay, is this safe for human consumption?’” Bahirat says. “To just figure out how to go about finding the answers to that question was really challenging. Then there was the whole part of when we started looking for avocados seeds. I mean, people had no idea what we were talking about.”
The process of making and bottling one of the drinks takes about four days, and starts with actually getting their hands on avocado seeds, which was more difficult than they’d imagined. Between constant back-and-forth with restaurants and stores around Philadelphia to get their seeds and figuring out how to transport them to their facility, Masud and Bahirat had to create the process from scratch and learn as they went.
“When I first found out that there were so many avocado seeds getting wasted, I called a lot of the restaurants and found out that they all just throw them away—not even compost them—and throw them into the landfill,” Bahirat says. “That’s horrible for organic matter to get into the landfill because it doesn't decompose and it creates greenhouse gases and toxins.”
Currently, they partner with area restaurants like El Vez, Rosy’s Taco Bar, Jose Pistola’s, and local grocer Giant Heirloom Market. “We go there about three or four times a week, collect the seeds, process them ourselves, freeze them, and then get them ready for production,” Masud says.
If you’re hesitant about how avocados would taste in brew form, think of its flavor profile as a mix between an iced tea and kombucha. Reveal’s drinks contain three times the amount of antioxidants in green tea and are made with just five ingredients: avocado seed extract, organic apple cider vinegar, monk fruit extract, natural flavors, and malic acid.
“If iced tea is way too sweet for you, or if kombucha is way too strong, our drink kind of falls perfectly in the middle,” Masud says. “It’s just a great way to get some apple cider vinegar into your diet and get a bunch of antioxidants, which people are normally only getting from fruit.”
Making a positive difference on the environment by just changing the way we eat and reuse foods is what Bahirat and Masud want people to take away most from Reveal. “We want to spread the message that even the parts of food that we throw away are useful if we try,” Bahirat says “Building businesses and systems that try to utilize everything we are growing will have a huge impact on how sustainable our food systems will be in the future.”