Edible packaging could be coming to store near you over the next few years.
That's the plan for Harvard professor David Edwards and designer François Azambourg who have invented WikiCells, which encase various foods and liquids in edible membranes that function like the skin of a grape, according to an article in Slate.
WikiCells can hold everything from gazpacho soup, hot chocolate, ice cream and yogurt. It won the the prestigious Special Jury Award for Innovation at Sial Paris 2012, a leading global food industry conference.
What makes it edible? The membrane itself is made of food particles—say, cheese or dried fruit—and is held together by calcium or magnesium ions and alginate. There's even a grape-flavoured pouch filled with wine.
Edwards and his team have also created a number of secondary shells for boxes or wrappers made of caramel, isomalt (rock candy), tapioca, or bagasse (what's left over when sugar is taken out of sugar cane). All but the bagasse and tapioca versions are edible.
But can consumers stomach eating food stuff packaging that has been on grocery shelves? No problem, the shells are compostable.
In late October, Edwards and his team launched the first WikiBar, and by the end of 2013, Edwards hopes that there will be 30 or so WikiBars in the U.S. and Europe, as well as one or two "Wiki-fied" items in stores, possibly ice cream or yogurt.
The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported that he's working with Danone. Edwards also told Slate he hoped to create WikiCell vending machines and is currently testing out a prototype machine that runs without electricity in a rural community outside of Johannesburg.
Meanwhile, MonoSol, an Indiana company is also looking at edible packaging. Earlier this month, it launched Vivos edible, water-soluble film or polymer.
The Vivos packets can hold hot chocolate powder or instant coffee or oatmeal or whey protein drinks, said the article. The package is simply put into hot or cold water, and the edible film dissolves.
Watch the demo here:
Both companies face an uphill battle in getting consumers to eat their packaging. “We understand people are hesitant,” said Sumeet Kumar, senior manager at MonoSol in the report. “People may think … am I eating a plastic? Is that OK?”
But consumers consume polymers all the time—they coat pharmaceutical pills and are used in breath strips, for instance, noted Slate.
MonoSol is looking at offering the product in store end of next year.
Elsewhere in the world, last month, two South Korean researchers published a paper recommending an edible packaging made from trout skin, while a British company just received a grant to make a spray-on, edible, protective film that could reduce waste from meat packaging, said the article.