Pouring milk and then eating the bottle sounds less than tempting, but edible packaging is being touted as food technology’s next big thing. However, it isn’t an entirely new concept. UK’s celebrity Chef Heston Blumenthal has been at it for years, wrapping palatable paper around packets of soup and urging people to eat salted caramels wrapper.
Now, two US companies are vying to be the first to commercially exploit the “untapped market” for wrappers you can munch. Leading the way (in publicity terms, at least) is the Dumbledore of food technology, Harvard wizard Dr David Edwards, whose previous innovations include a “breathable” chocolate, delightfully called Le Whif. He has now turned his attention to WikiCells — an edible membrane made from a biodegradable polymer and food particles — that can imitate “bottles” found in nature, such as grape skins.
So far, Dr Edwards and his team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have created a tomato membrane containing gazpacho soup, an orange membrane filled with orange juice that can be sipped through a straw, a grape-like membrane holding wine and a chocolate membrane containing hot chocolate. Edwards believes pretty much any flavour is possible.
He recently told Harvard’s campus newspaper Harvard Crimson that his team was working on a prototype bottle that had an eggshell-like hard coating in addition to the membrane that could be peeled off or eaten whole.
Meanwhile, Indiana-based MonoSol is hot on Dr Edward’s heels. Its water-soluble casings are already widely used to make squidgy pods of washing detergent. The company has been developing tasty edible films that are strong enough to act as packaging until they come into contact with water and dissolve. Products in the pipeline include servings of hot chocolate and other drinks that you slip straight into cups, and single servings of flavoured porridge.
Leicester-based Pepceuticals last month won a 1.3 million pounds worth European research contract to develop an edible coating for fresh meat, which the company says could increase shelf life, reduce waste and do away with the need for oil-based plastic vacuum packs. It cites research that shows UK consumers spend more money on meat than any other food item, but waste an astonishing 570,000 tonnes each year.
“The potential to apply an antimicrobial film in the processing factory should significantly prevent the deterioration of the fresh meat product, and save waste. It will revolutionise the look and feel of the traditional meat counter,” the company claims.
The potential benefits of such food packaging are intriguing. According to latest figures, the food, drink and packaging waste in the UK supply chain is about 6.6million tonnes a year, and costs 5 billion pounds.
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