Here’s a solution to our ever-growing plastic problem: package food and beverage items in edible packaging that’s actually good enough to eat. Dr. David Edwards, a professor at Harvard, is working on it. After creating Breathable Foods and an energy capsule, Edwards moved on to WikiCells, an edible packaging technology.
The WikiCells project began a few years ago when Edwards collaborated with French designer François Azambourg on an edible bottle that uses nature’s "natural packaging" as an inspiration for more artificial packaging.
Says Edwards: "The notion [of Wikicells] is that you are englobing liquid, foam, or something else in a soft membrane held together by food particles that are being connected by electrostatic charges to each other and to a small amount of natural polymer." The soft membrane could be surrounded by a harder egg-like shell if necessary—something made out of chocolate, rock candy, or even algae. If that’s hard to imagine, think of it this way: a tomato and basil membrane that houses gazpacho, a chocolate membrane holding hot chocolate, or an orange membrane containing orange juice.
"You can imagine that the yogurt will have a fruity kind of membrane. It could be raspberry, cherry, blueberry. We make something that looks like mozzarella cheese, but when you cut it with a spoon it’s all yogurt inside," he says.
The professor has constructed all of these creations, and some of them are available for adventurous souls to try at the Lab Store Paris, Edwards’s storefront where people can eat his food experiments. Based on reports from Lab Store visitors, he believes that the membrane taste is satisfactory; now the issue is "stability in an uncontrolled environment and getting this out at scale."
The hygiene of edible packaging is, of course, also an issue. But just as you would wash a membrane-enclosed piece of fruit before eating it, people could wash their WikiCell products before consuming.
In May, Edwards plans to release WikiCell products through a company that he’s forming (and at the W Hotel in Paris). Ultimately he hopes to design a WikiCell production machine that could be sold to restaurants, companies, and even villages in developing countries that want to manufacture their own products and ditch traditional packaging.
"Our perspective is that eventually, the packaging of tomorrow will be the fruit of today," says Edwards.