July 18, 2014

WikiCell ice cream

Is WikiPearl ice cream going to upend the food industry? Credit: Phase One Photography

Guest:

Many of the foods we eat – from cookies to cereal – are packaged in plastic.

The upside? Plastic is cheap, convenient, and versatile.

The downside? Chemicals from packaging may leech into food. And ton of plastic ends up in both the ocean and in landfills every year.

Now, imagine walking into a grocery store where everything is wrapped in edible, grape-like skins, with no other packaging. You buy what you want, take it home, and wash it off like you would an apple, before eating it.

That's the vision of Harvard's David Edwards, who's working to make this futuristic scene a reality.

“My dream is to rethink food and beverage packaging, following the model of nature, in the way that nature packages fruit,” says Edwards, whose Cambridge lab we visited.

From soft, edible skins to hard, biodegradable shells (think coconuts or bananas), Edwards is developing membranes that protect food, taste good, and even have nutritional value.

3 cheeses

Cheeses with edible packaging. Credit: Phase One Photography

The lab has started with ice cream and yogurt and is planning to move on to soups and cocktails. So how do you make self-contained soup?

“We have little grapes of gazpacho, Edwards says of the soup. And so they have skins that are tomato and inside you have a gazpacho soup and so you pop your gazpacho soup like you would pop grapes and you bite into it and it sort of pops in your mouth.”

Edwards believes the new concept is scalable. But we're a long way from filling an entire grocery store with edible packaging.

Another challenge is consumer adoption. In many places, organic food is still considered exotic. Will a farming family in the Midwest really forgo Lunchables for an edible, membrane-wrapped ham and cheese?

If you want to hear more about Dr. Edwards’ work, listen to our full interview, above.

Green, wikifoods, edible packaging, David Edwards, food

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