Food packaging has become a major part of our solid waste stream, with a majority of this packaging being difficult or impossible to recycle. EPA statistics show that containers and food packaging constitute 32% of U.S. household waste. This problem has vexed Harvard scientists, who announced that they have developed a food packaging technology that could eliminate the need for plastic containers, and we could see on grocery store shelves in the next 12 months. Harvard professor David Edwards and designer François Azambourg have invented WikiCells, which encase various foods and liquids in edible membranes that function like the skin of a grape. They are "novel edible forms for eating and drinking transportable foods and drinks without plastic." They encase various foods and liquids in edible membranes that function like the skin of a grape. WikiCells can hold gazpacho soup, hot chocolate, ice cream, yogurt-almost anything. The membrane itself is made of food particles-say, cheese or dried fruit-and held together by calcium or magnesium ions and alginate. They consist of a natural food membrane held together by electrostatic forces and containing a liquid, emulsion, foam, or solid food substance possibly within an edible or biodegradable shell. They can be used to protect otherwise vulnerable foods, then broken away like an eggshell when it's time for the food to be consumed. Because WikiCells' skin keeps water out and in it is possible to simply compost the "shell" and wash the inside as you would apples or peaches-making the total product more environmentally friendly.
The team has already created a few imaginative WikiCells, including a tomato membrane containing gazpacho soup that can be poured over bread, an orange membrane filled with orange juice that you can drink with a straw, smaller grape-like membrane holding wine, and a chocolate membrane containing hot chocolate. For now, this would be a specialty item, used only by those who could afford and operate their very own WikiCell Machine. But in the future Edwards hopes they will someday be commercially available to the broader public. “The notion of Wikicells is that you are englobing liquid, foam, or something else in a soft membrane held together by food particles that are being connected by electrostatic charges to each other and to a small amount of natural polymer.” The soft membrane could be surrounded by a harder egg-like shell if necessary-something made out of chocolate, rock candy, or even algae. If that’s hard to imagine, think of it this way: a tomato and basil membrane that houses gazpacho, a chocolate membrane holding hot chocolate, or an orange membrane containing orange juice.
University of California food scientist Professor John Krochta has developed an edible food coating derived from the dairy by-product whey. He believes that the protection, which can either be a smooth, glossy coat or a thin, plastic-like film, can be used to make foods spoilage-resistant. It will reduce the amount of packaging needed and finds a use for a by-product that now ends up mostly in low value products or is thrown away. Manufacturers of edible film also have a selection of starches to choose from, including wheat, potato or corn. Scientists at Oregon State University's department of Food Science and Technology have already designed an edible film made from natural ingredients that protects foods coated in the material from spoiling. The film can also hold vitamins and other nutrients within it to boost the nutritional value of the food. The scientists combined chitosan, a fibre found in crab and shrimp shells, which is also a raw material for nutraceutical products, and the protein from egg whites, lysozyme, to create an anti-microbial food wrap.
Dr. Kamal Badiani runs Pepceuticals at Leicestershire, and is working very hard to make edible packaging a reality. This firm is developing an invisible film which can be used to coat poultry and meat. Dr. Kamal explains that it will protect poultry and meat a bit like a skin. Dr. Kamal says that a customer has to cook the meat in same normal way. Dr. Kamal has already made the prototype, and he mentions that it is completely tasteless.