A Tasty Treat, Packaging and All

Yogurt (one with granola, one without) and strawberries with WikiCell casing. Credit: Phase one Photography

We’re on the brink of ice cream season. That’s happy news for those of us addicted to the creamy deliciousness in a cone. And for Harvard scientist David Edwards and his team, that means the release of their latest venture (or adventure, depending on how you see it): ice cream in an edible chocolate skin that doesn’t melt, no additional packaging required.

According to an American Public Media (API) story about the food and its inventor, this is not Edwards’ first foray into digestible packaging. Edwards used a grape’s outer casing as muse, and in an ultimate example of science mimicking nature, created WikiCells, “novel edible forms for eating and drinking transportable foods and drinks without plastic,” he writes in a talk abstract on the subject.

The WikiCells are comprised of natural food membranes attached by electrostatic forces. They contain “a liquid, emulsion, foam, or solid food substance…within an edible or biodegradable shell.” In laymen’s terms, that means no unnecessary plastic packaging, something the EPA says accounted for 14 million tons of waste in 2010.

To date, Edwards’ team has experimented with varying fruits and vegetables, like a gazpacho-holding “tomato” and a wine-filled “grape,” reports The Guardian. Edwards describes his product to API: “It looks like an apple, looks like an orange, looks like a pear, but you can actually pick it up and wash it and stick a straw in it and drink the apple juice or the orange juice and the pear juice.”

He’s also done other cool experiments with food, like the inhalable chocolate he released in the late-2000s aptly named Le Whif and the Pumpkin, which copies the way a biological cell transports water.

To me, Edwards’ stuff has the feel of molecular gastronomy—tricking the senses with liquid when the expectation is, for example, a solid—but with an environmental bent. I experienced something like this in Spain, when I ate a “packet” of seafood bath salt. It looked inedible, but the outer wrapper simply melted in the mouth, leading to the prawn-flavored powder. It’s kind of a strange sensation, leaving nothing behind but the delicious aftertaste.

Edwards plans to release his ice cream and edible packaging in France this summer. And if his taste-testers are anything like the ice cream lovers I know, they’ll be happy to have nothing left but the taste on their tongues.

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