By John Stevens
PUBLISHED: 18:00 EST, 15 June 2012 | UPDATED: 20:19 EST, 15 June 2012
Wouldn’t it be even better if we could simply eat the lot, container and all?
It would cut down on the amount of waste we produce and the enjoyment of our food would last that little bit longer.
This is exactly what a team of scientists say they have managed to do.
They say the invention of edible food packaging will transform how we eat and cut down the amount of plastic we throw away.
The packaging, created by researchers in France led by Dr David Edwards, is called WikiCells. It’s designed to imitate how fruit and vegetables are ‘packaged’ in nature with a protective outer layer or skin you can eat.
‘The idea was to use the model of how nature wraps foods,’ said Dr Edwards, a professor from Harvard. ‘It is a completely new way of packaging and eating.’ He has developed a range of yoghurt pots, juice cartons, water bottles and ice cream containers that mimic natural packaging by enclosing food and liquid in an edible membrane.
The containers are designed to be a similar shape to the fruits they seek to copy and are created using an edible plastic, which is a combination of algae and calcium. This is mixed with food particles, such as cocoa or fruit, so that the packaging tastes like what is inside.
They can be used to package both solids and liquids including soup, cheese, cocktails, fizzy drinks and coffee.
Those containing liquids can be pierced with a straw and the contents drunk before they are eaten.
The membranes can be washed under a tap and eaten, just like the skin of an apple.
Consumers worried how many times the packaging has been handled can simply throw it away, like the peel of an orange, because it is biodegradable.
So far, the researchers working on the packaging at a laboratory in Paris have created examples including filling an orange membrane with orange juice, a tomato-flavoured skin with soup and mini-membranes the size of grapes that are full of wine.
Dr Edwards said: ‘You could put the little grape membranes in your mouth whole and squash them so you get the wine inside.
‘Everything is useful and everything is good for you. You don’t throw things away.’
The first product expected to go on sale will be Wiki Ice Cream, which will launch at the end of the summer with vanilla ice cream frozen inside a cookie dough- flavoured membrane.
Dr Edwards is currently working with a number of multinational companies – including a fizzy drinks manufacturer and a yoghurt maker – to see how the packaging could be used on a mass scale.
A large manufacturing plant is being built in Massachusetts in the US and he expects products to be widely available in stores within the next five years.
He refused to reveal which companies he is working with, but his researchers already work with Danone, the makers of Actimel probiotic drinks, Activia yoghurts and Evian water. He said: ‘Clearly we’re going to end the plastic era one day, it could be in a century or in 20 years time. And how that will happen will involve some changes in human behaviour.
‘You could put soup inside these things, buy it in the shops in the membrane, take it home and put the whole thing in a microwave to heat and then serve it as it is or in a bowl with the skin chopped up in the soup.’
He eventually hopes to develop a model that will allow individuals to produce their own edible bottles, which he says will be particularly useful in places such as African villages where they are unable to dispose of plastic.