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Edible Packaging Coming Soon

Hot & Cool Food Trends

Soon you’ll be able to drink your wine and eat it, too. That is, eat the package it comes in.

Within a year or two, edible packaging for a variety of foods will be available for purchase thanks to the work of some smart people at the Harvard Wyss Institute and Indiana-based company Monosol.

Previously known for products like dissolving dishwasher detergent tablets, Monosol is today developing edible packaging for products like oatmeal, hot chocolate and drink sticks.

Speaking with Fast Company magazine, Jon Gallagher, Monosol’s product development manager, said “If we get our films in just 10 percent of the [$22 billion] instant-coffee market, or in the oatmeal or hot-chocolate markets, we could more than triple the size of our business.”

The edible packaging is called WikiCells, and, as described on the Harvard website, the product is “a natural food membrane held together by electrostatic forces and containing a liquid, emulsion, foam, or solid food substance possibly within an edible or biodegradable shell.”

The Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineered came up the product after studying water-storing fruits such as grapes. So far, Dr. David Edwards and his team at the Institute have created a tomato membrane containing gazpacho soup, an orange membrane filled with orange juice that can be sipped through a straw, a grape-like membrane holding wine and a chocolate membrane containing hot chocolate. He believes pretty much any food package is feasible.

Dr. Edwards told the campus newspaper the Harvard Crimson that his team was working on a prototype bottle that had an eggshell-like hard coating in addition to the membrane that could be peeled off or eaten whole. "In the near term, we will be encountering WikiCells in restaurant settings," he said. He then plans to expand into supermarkets and beyond.

The packaging obviously holds great promise as a solution to the problems of waste and the world's growing landfills. Dr. Edwards believes things like edible bottles could deliver major benefits to the developing world. "People in a village in Africa could become plastic bottle-free and make things for themselves," he says. "It's really exciting from a humanitarian point of view."

Of course, there may be some initial resistance among consumers to eat the package their food comes in. As the packaging industry notes, there’s likely to be a psychological barrier to eating the juice box, no matter how delicious it’s said to be.

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Photo via The Way We See the World.