Some of us discuss politics and religion with our friends -- I discuss food. In a recent brain drain on the future of food and how science is fast becoming a necessary ingredient regarding sustainable living, I shared a meal and and some exciting ideas with friend and physician Dr. Dennis Liotta as we explored the future of edible containers.
While the edible world created behind the mysterious gates of Willy Wonka's factory was once only a deliciously-flavored dream, edible packaging is no longer only mere whimsy. Understandably, while the Tupperware representative may not yet be encouraging his/her living room audience to take a taste of the latest line of "lock and seal?" Never say never; but for now the real excitement is focusing around "packaging as part of the culinary experience," says David Edwards, professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard University.
We have all done it -- stuffed ourselves on the family size bag of this or that -- but what if we could have included the bag as part of our journey through gluttony? Edwards, inventor of the fully edible WikiPearl thinks he might just have found a way.
"It's a really interesting property and relevant in terms of rethinking our packaging," he says. "Suddenly packaging becomes part of the culinary experience." WikiPearl ice cream and yogurt were launched in selected Paris stores last June.
The immediate question is whether consumers are willing to eat the wrapper as some sanitary issues come into play based on shelf storage at the supermarket. What will the consumer support in the name of a more shallow carbon footprint and does the solution reside only in the technology or in savvy marketing as well?
The edible container is not a new concept according to research groups around the world. The pharmaceutical industries have used gelatinous packaging for decades reducing waste and adding consumer convenience and value.
Is this just hype and what kind of packaging is actually realistic? The top research of late is exploring biopolymer-based food packaging materials as the front-runner, with dry thermoplastic process proving to be another commercially viable option. It will also be interesting to see if a nanocomposite edible packaging material holds any true promise. Nanocomposites found in nature in abalone (seafood) shells and bone may hold promise as well.
Reinventing packaging by developing earth friendly edible food beverage packaging answers gives Mother Nature a chance to breathe and with the initial success of ice cream, cheese, frozen yogurt, fruits, vegetables, water, cocktails and soups already in the in the market place the future bodes well.
According to the industry leaders on the topic benefits of edible packaging include:
• Environmentally friendly
• Portion control
• Offers functional nutrition
• Creates unique flavor combinations
• Fun: It's okay to play with your food
Edible packaging seems to be one answer to avoiding a "trashy future" as mountainous landfills and other forms of waste disposal related problems face our urban planners. Clearly, this technology is no longer mere fantasy and it will be nearly as interesting to follow the politics that are sure to accompany the development of this alternative to present packaging as edible containers simply become more palatable.