Renewable Matter # 4 / June

Edible Films? Courgettes Invented Them!

by Federico Pedrocchi

Undoubtedly, a species feeding on rubbish would be an excellent solution for the circular economy. Could it be the aim of a planned Darwinism? I am afraid that we would receive many negative signals from several research fields, not least because the main information available is that the evolution of the species occurs with disheartening slowness and before feeding on the mobile phones replaced by the new ones (one of the most serious modern problems with regard to waste management), 2 million years may go by. But there is a need to act before.

 

Well, we could eat food containers, by designing them edible, of course. There are some interesting results with mineral water algae-based containers. A solution that could prove very fruitful and that has already been widely experimented is edible films for wrapping bakery products, such as the widespread snacks. Carla Severini from the University of Foggia, has been working on it with a valid patent since January 2015.

There are two main aspects to bear in mind with regard to edible packaging, in order to minimize our amazement at this new innovative scenario. 

First, in nature, what we eat that can be found inside, is always surrounded by something covering it on the outside, that is made of matter which is not totally different from its content. Although more and more “human cubs” tend to think that the plastic wrapping of sandwiches is the same as the orange peel, we know this is not the case. Organic matter is able to express itself in a number of variations and very often we already eat everything: courgettes, aubergines, plums, grapes, cherries. Indeed, we do not peel them.

The second aspect – to be handled avoiding delusions of grandeur – could be defined as that of transversality. Materials science is currently exploring a territory – whose vastness is hardly predictable – in which ingredients mix in manners that are in no way inferior to the most astonishing food blendings. After the iron and plastic ages, the so to speak single-theme years, are finished. Materials science is now producing food migrations towards objects that have little to do with nutrition. In other words: fabrics are being designed from orange peels. Why should we be amazed, then, if certain molecules from a particular type of food are used as protective packaging for another? 

In addition, edible films for bakery products have other advantages. They last longer compared to current containers, they offer enhanced protection and avoid the use of preservatives, allowing only the use of one bag to safeguard it from dust. Moreover, they manage to keep higher organoleptic values. As a result, a muffin will be softer and more fragrant. As for preservatives: a very important factor is that bakery products on the supermarket shelves, if they have to be low-calorie foods – and it would be appropriate to expand such kind of foodstuffs – are highly perishable, while with edible films, their shelf life is extended.

By way of conclusion, we are faced with a kind of innovation showing many advantages indeed. It will have to be submitted to field evaluation, but the preconditions are undoubtedly promising. Yes, perhaps some of you may have heard that edible plates and cutlery have been designed. That is true, and the idea is in line with the reduction of the waste volume and, in this case, of pollutants (detergents) which the entire food cycle feeds into the environment. Of course, if in a coffee shop you will order a muffin wrapped in an edible film and served on an edible plate – it is obvious how humans still carry within their code merely sedated behavioural patterns – waiters may receive funny looks. This is because certain drifts are difficult to stop.

 

To find out more on edible packaging patented by the University of Foggia please consult tinyurl.com/odnevh4