60-Second Science

Have Your Cake and Eat Its Package

Materials scientists are developing edible packaging for processed foods. Cynthia Graber reports

Picture an orange. It’s encased in a biodegradable shell—the peel’s even somewhat edible, as marmalade fans can attest. But we humans often package food in plastic, with its environmental and disposal challenges.

So Harvard scientist David Edwards and colleagues thought, why not take advantage of advances in materials science to mimic nature? The call their result WikiCells. Edwards recently described the development in a talk at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. ["WikiCells: Bottles That We Eat"]

Taking note of nature's clever packaging, Edwards and his team created a membrane made of charged particles of edible substances bound by electrostatic forces. The membrane surrounds a liquid, foam or solid food. Then that membrane is surrounded by an edible or biodegradable hard shell.

The researchers are testing WikiCells at Harvard’s partner Le Laboratoire in Paris, where people are munching on containers of ice cream and soup. The technology is currently a bit of a novelty. But the scientists are working on shelf stability and taste to create a variety of consumer products. Maybe in the future you’ll be able to sip some juice, and eat the package. Of course, clam chowder served in bread bowls is already available in the Harvard area.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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