Design Chain: Packaging - and how to eat the profits
By Lou Reade
Posted 3 December 2012
Packaging companies are keen to reduce their carbon footprint by using plastics sourced from renewable resources. Many of these polymers are biodegradable, so can be composted after use.
But a more direct route is to make the package edible, so that even the composting step can be removed.
MonoSol's Vivo film dissolves in water
An increasing number of researchers are working on edible packaging concepts, and some of these have already reached the market. US-based MonoSol, for example – which was recently acquired by Kuraray of Japan – has commercialised its edible film technology.
Water-soluble, edible pouches made from its Vivos films dissolve and release their contents when exposed to hot or cold liquids. The dissolved film can then be consumed along with the food.
The packaging is aimed at both consumers and professionals – such as foodservice kitchens that need pre-measured quantities of ingredients. Some examples of target applications include fruit drinks, instant teas and coffees, gravies, soups, hot chocolate, enzymes, vitamin fortifiers and yeasts.
Vivos is composed of a proprietary blend of food grade ingredients. The film is transparent and has no smell or taste when consumed, says the company. It combines good oxygen barrier properties with robust mechanical properties.
In a similar vein, Chinese researchers have looked into the possibility of making edible films from carrots.
In a paper published in Food & Bioproducts Processing, a team from Jilin University led by Xinwei Wang reveal that the films are based on carrot puree, plus other ingredients including carboxylmethyl cellulose (CMC), corn starch and gelatin.
At the same time, glycerol has been added as a plasticiser.
Confectionery products, baked goods, nuts and other products have been identified as possible applications, as well as fruit and vegetables.
While most edible packaging is most likely to be derived from plants, there are some potentially useful animal sources too.
Dayeon Kim and Sea C Min, of the department of food science and technology at Seoul Women’s University in South Korea, have prepared edible polymer films from gelatin extracted from trout skin (TSG).
“The fishing industry produces a significant amount of waste, including fish skin,” say the researchers. “This could be one way to cut waste disposal in the trout processing industry.”
A 6.8% solution of TSG, using glycerol as a plasticiser, was heated at 90°C for 30 minutes, in order to form a polymer film. As glycerol concentration increased, film strength and moisture barrier properties decreased.
The amino acid composition of the TSG, and a number of mechanical properties of the resulting films – including elastic modulus, tensile properties and water vapour permeability – have all been tested.
They films could be used for packaging low and intermediate water activity food products, so may have direct practical applications in the food industry, they say.
The research results were published in the Journal of Food Science.
But the ultimate future could be to eliminate packaging materials like plastics altogether.
US-based WikiCell Designs – the brainchild of David Edwards, a biomedical engineer from Harvard University – has developed a series of natural food particle ‘skins’ that are held together by ionic molecules.
WikiCell's natural 'skins' can hold a variety of foods
These skins are used to enclose a variety of foods, including ice cream, yoghurt, cheese, soup and juice.
For example, it has developed a spinach membrane to hold pumpkin soup, a lemon membrane for lemon juice, and melted chocolate in a cherry membrane
The company is gearing up for a commercial launch by the end of next year, thanks to a recent $10m (£6.2m) investment from two venture capital firms.
“WikiCell Designs was created to turn food and beverage packaging from plastic toward all-natural forms – protecting products much as nature does,” said Edwards. “This approach has the potential to fundamentally change the way food is packaged and consumed.”
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