10 Innovative (and Delicious) Ways to Use Your Food Scraps
By Erika Wolf
Chances are, you’re cooking at home a lot more these days. All that extra cooking means your trash bin may be rapidly filling with food scraps. If you'd hate to see those bits of food go to waste, check out these creative ways to reuse your food scraps.
1. Reuse pickle brine.
After you’ve snacked on your last pickle, there’s no need to dump all that scrumptiously sour brine down the drain. Instead, add items like hard-boiled eggs, canned artichokes, onions, garlic, or even watermelon rinds to the brine. You can tenderize meat with pickle brine by using it as a marinade; use it to give Bloody Marys an extra kick; add it to barbecue sauce for extra flavor; or you can even use it as a secret ingredient in mac and cheese.
2. Keep a scrap container in the freezer.
Vegetable peels and tops are excellent ingredients for homemade stock. It can take a while to accumulate all those morsels, so The Kitchn recommends keeping a scrap bag in the freezer. You can even save parmesan rinds and add them to stocks or soups along with the vegetable scraps for a more robust flavor.
3. Roast potato peels for creative “crisps.”
The Guardian refers to these roasted, repurposed potato peels as “crisps” and suggests tossing them in olive oil, sea salt, and herbs before popping them in the oven. The Kitchn is perhaps more realistic and refers to these snacks as something between a potato chip and a French fry, and suggests roasting them for 15 minutes and then sprinkling them with cheese and scallions.
4. Use bacon grease to make bacon-scented candles.
You already know you can save bacon grease and cook with it to make pretty much anything all the more tasty. But did you know you can fill your home with the mouth-watering meaty aroma with some homemade bacon-scented candles? All you need is 1/2 a pint of bacon grease, 1 pound of beeswax, 1 square of red wax dye, and three candle wick bases. Then, follow these simple instructions from MyRecipes.com to, as they say, “make your entire life smell like bacon.”
5. Make flavorful vanilla sugar from used vanilla beans.
Susan Westmoreland, culinary director in the Kitchen Appliances & Technology Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, suggests reusing vanilla beans. “Because a vanilla bean has a great deal of flavor, it can usually be reused several times before its aroma and taste are depleted,” she explains. She suggests using the beans to make vanilla sugar. After washing and drying the bean, slit it lengthwise, spread it open, and bury it in a jar of sugar, using approximately 2 cups of sugar per bean. Vanilla beans are so potent, Westmoreland writes, that you can keep adding fresh sugar every six months and still get a strong vanilla flavor. You can use the sugar to flavor coffee or tea, as well as in baked goods.
6. Use leftover coffee grounds as skincare.
You shouldn’t use coarse coffee grounds on your delicate facial skin, but they can make for a great body scrub. Caffeine tightens and awakens the skin, and Elle suggests mixing 1 cup of coffee grounds with 6 tablespoons of coconut oil and 3 tablespoons of sea salt or sugar for an invigorating DIY beauty treatment.
7. Reuse tea bags in the bath, or as cool eye compresses.
Well + Good recommends recycling a few tea bags for a soothing, fragrant bath (they recommend using something like chamomile or ginger). Also, you can use cool teabags, particularly chamomile or green tea, over closed eyelids to reduce puffiness and dark circles.
8. Use eggshells in your coffee to make it less bitter.
Good Housekeeping suggests adding an eggshell to your coffee grounds when they’re in the filter to make your morning cup of joe less bitter. The calcium carbonate in the shells, which is an alkaline material, helps neutralize the acid in the coffee. Eggshells are also great in the garden—as part of a compost pile, they decompose quickly and add calcium to the soil. They also repel plant-eating pests, and can even keep deer away from flower beds.
9. Reuse corn cobs to make corn stock, corn jelly, or even to smoke meat.
After you’ve stripped your corn cobs to make a delicious summer meal, you can use the cobs to make a sweet, golden-hued stock. You can also boil the cobs, strain the liquid, and add pectin for jelly, or use them in place of wood chips over charcoal to give meat additional flavor.
10. Use leftover pasta water to create a unique whiskey cocktail.
Most foodies seem to agree that pasta water is liquid gold. Rachael Ray recommends mixing some of it into pasta sauce as a starchy, salty thickener, as well as freezing the leftovers in ice cube trays to use later in sauces and soups. But one of the most creative uses for pasta water is courtesy of Kim Stodel, the beverage director at Los Angeles-based Providence. Stodel told NBC News in 2017 about a cocktail she created called the “Carbonara Footprint,” which uses one egg white, .75 ounces of pasta water, Angostura bitters, fresh lemon juice, and bourbon. Sounds like a great reward for reusing all those food scraps!