Ice cream with different flavoured, edible packaging.

For anyone concerned by the endless and often unnecessary food packaging you find in shops and supermarkets there is an answer at hand: edible packaging.

Edible membrane

Harvard professor David Edwards, along with designer François Azambourg, have created edible membranes that encase foods and liquids. The idea was inspired by Edward’s observation that, in nature, packaging is inseparable from the packaged contents such as the skin of a grape.

You wouldn’t want to put orange juice inside a chocolate skin but you could put it in an orange rind skin

The packaging is made up of two layers as Dr. Edwards explains. He says, “The primary packaging keeps the moisture inside. It is made up of three primary components: a natural food particle, such as chocolate, nuts or foie gras – these little particles always carry an electrostatic charge. The second component is polysaccharide, which are again little charged molecules, and thirdly, ions such as calcium or magnesium. When these three things are mixed together they form an electrostatic gel, and this gel skin is the first layer of protection.”

Inspired by nature

In nature this would be known as the endoderm and it can be multilayered such as you find in a coconut. The second layer acts like an endocarp, which is a hard shell that surrounds and protects the first, soft layer.

Greek yoghurt encased in a raspberry skin.

Dr. Edwards says, “Generally speaking, the biological cell will have a coat of protein around it and we have that too. If you buy a WikiCell at a vending machine or at a counter it will typically have a shell that is edible which could be chocolate or caramel or anything. On the other hand if you are buying it in a supermarket, in a mass distribution context, it will typically be like a coconut shell, simply compostable, in which case it is made out of bagasse, which is what is left over when you take sugar out of sugar cane.”

Tailoring ingredients

The skins are made up of different ingredients depending on the food they are encasing. Dr.Edwards says, “You wouldn’t want to put orange juice inside a chocolate skin – well, you might – but you could put it in an orange rind skin. You can absolutely tailor the skins to the food and you can create some really interesting food experiences. We have made Greek yoghurt covered in a raspberry skin and ice cream that is covered in chocolate fudge. What makes it even more interesting is that you could put [the latter] in the microwave and make it into a hot milkshake.”

You can wash the outer packaging too, like you would with any fruit

But what if the outer layer gets contaminated? Dr. Edwards says it’s no different from buying fruit. “Take an orange for example: you can eat the rind but you often don’t because you think it might have been treated and so forth. It depends where you’re getting it from. If you’re pulling the orange off the tree then you may think you will eat it all, but if it’s coming out of a vending machine you may think, I’ll peel this off and drop it in the side of the road. You can wash the outer packaging too, like you would with any fruit.”

A few weeks ago Dr. Edwards opened a Wikibar in Paris, which is currently only open for private tasting. However, he plans to sell the product commercially in March next year.

For more information go to WikiCell.


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