The packaging market is continually evolving, but while most other industries focus on the most advanced taping machines and carton sealing machines, the food packaging is taking a different, somewhat surprising, direction. The latest in the food packaging market is something called ‘Wikicell’, an edible form of food packaging invented by David Edwards, a professor at Harvard University.
WikiCell works a bit like skin; it can protect any liquid, foam, or solid food that it holds. To make this possible, the material has two layers. The first is like a soft skin made from tiny food particles taken from natural sources such as fruit, nuts, chocolate, and seeds, as well as a nutritious ion-like calcium, plus a natural molecule, which can either be chitosan or alginate. The result is a layer of electrostatic gel that can hold water or other beverages inside.
The second layer, on the other hand, is the outermost layer and serves as a harder shell around the first layer. There are two kinds of this edible shell. The first is the edible type, which is made of a kind of sweetener called isomalt. The other kind is not edible but is completely biodegradable; it is made of either tapioca or baggase, which is the substance left over when sugar is removed from sugar cane.
So depending on the kind of WikiCell packaging used, the shell can be eaten or peeled off and thrown away. Either way, there is no need to worry about solid waste. Even if the outer WikiCell shell cannot be eaten, since it is made from natural ingredients, it is completely biodegradable and is certainly a better option compared to plastic or carton packaging.
What’s truly interesting about WikiCell is that it can not only be used to hold solid food, but also beverages. There are two ways to consume drinks that are encased in the WikiCell. The first is when the WikiCell is small enough, so all you have to do is toss it into your mouth. The second is when the WikiCell is far too large to be consumed like a grape; in this case, you can actually use a straw.
The WikiCell is now in its latter stages of development and sooner or later, you might be able to enjoy ice cream wrapped in WikiCell. The good news is, once the other shell is removed, the ice cream, which would still be wrapped in the inner WikiCell layer, will not melt in your hands. But here’s the best part yet; since the soft skin can also be given flavor, it is no longer just a packaging, but actually becomes part of the food product. So if you’re eating vanilla ice cream, the skin could be made to taste like chocolate fudge. It is also possible to include some vitamins and minerals in this soft inner skin, which can even make food more nutritious.
Currently, WikiCell packaging can be produced by a single machine, which is capable of producing 50 to 100 WikiCells per hour. This new packaging material gives us a clue as to the future direction of food packaging. For one thing, it can give food sellers and marketers lots of great marketing ideas gunning for all-around convenience. After all, what can be more convenient than simply eating your food without having to remove its outer package?
WikiCell is now being produced by WikiCell Designs Inc., a company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Paris, France. Just recently, the company was given the prestigious Special Jury Award for Innovation at the SIAL Paris, a leading global food industry conference.