Rarely a day goes by that we don't interact with some variety of food packaging. It can be an essential and integrated part of the food experience, or a disposable after-thought to be discarded to land fill.
Food has to be kept airtight to retain its freshness and packaging is often made of materials that can't be recycled, running contrary to the demand for less waste.
Taking inspiration from one of nature's perfect packaging solutions – the grape, Harvard bioengineer David Edwards has created an innovative and revolutionary food packaging solution – WikiPearls.
A shell-like container made of calcium ions, a WikiPearl isn't merely 'packaging' - it becomes an integral part of the food and eliminates the need to dispose of anything separately – you can just eat the product whole, package and all.
“We've got to try and package in the same way nature does", says Edwards, who collaborated with designer François Azambourg and biologist Don Ingber on the concept. Edwards himself has a long history of experimentation with foods that includes a chocolate inhaler and a caffeinated energy shot, Aero Shot.
WikiPearls are now available in peanut, coconut and hazelnut flavours, which when combined with the foods within, make for an interesting taste experience. They've so far been used to seal three different kinds of ice cream (mango, chocolate and vanilla), with versions of other foods (cheese, yogurt and coffee) under development. WikiPearls are not only leak proof, they are reportedly delicious.
Listed by the New York Times as one of their '32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow' list, it's a product that could have massive implications for the future of sustainable food production. WikiPearls are biodegradable, making disposing of them as eco-friendly as throwing a banana peel on the compost heap.
Lab testing has yet to determine whether they can be used to contain and conserve a broad range of everyday foods. Should results be positive, it could mean a huge stride forward for responsible packaging.
Brits keen to get their hands on the only ice cream not to melt in your hands will have to visit Paris, which has the world's first WikiBar, designed by Mathieu Lehanneur. The team aims to open WikiBars around the world, so there may yet come a time when you'll be able to enjoy a relaxing coffee or ice cream on the Central Line in high summer.
We've got to try and package in the same way nature does.
David Edwards, Harvard bioengineer