Wrapped by Nature: WikiCells

A Harvard professor's new startup promises to eliminate food packaging waste

WikiCells have edible skin to reduce waste
WikiCells have an edible skin similar to a grape.(Photo by: WikiCells)

Updated Jul 11, 2017 @ 10:16 am

Good things come in edible packages.

In an attempt to reduce the waste created by food packaging, chemical engineer, inventor and Harvard professor David Edwards has stumbled upon a unique form of biomimicry. Inspired by the way a grape’s skin or an apple’s peel protects the form of the fruit, Dr. Edward’s new startup, WikiCells, introduces self-contained, edible casings for any food, including liquids. Since this kind of digestible packaging exists in nature, why not offer natural exteriors held together by edible materials?

The skin of the WikiCell, which can be washed like a vegetable or piece of fruit, is made of substances designed to pair deliciously with what’s inside. So a mousse may be encapsulated in a shell comprised of particles of chocolate, held together by calcium ions. Or take, for example, the WikiCocktail—Cointreau suspended in an orange zest skin—users can hold in their hands, poke with a straw, or bite into and drink directly. Their first commercial product, available to French consumers this summer, is Wiki Ice Cream. Similar to Japanese mochi, balls of ice cream are encased in a chocolate bagasse container, a fibrous residue from sugar cane. Edwards and his team have also experimented with yogurts, puddings, and a gazpacho-stuffed tomato membrane, amongst other edibles.

The implications of this technology are exciting: Eliminating disposable packaging suggests a possible solution for the millions of tons of food-related trash that overflow in U.S. landfills each year. WikiCells began as a seed of idea about how to reduce the refuse from packaging on food delivered to impoverished areas in Africa. Because the system has hardly any limit in terms of contents, WikiCells could potentially contain nutrition packs for developing countries. What a tasty way to cut down on global waste!

Sometimes, it’s what’s on the outside that counts.

WikiCocktails and other WikiCells creations will be available stateside in Boston in 2013.

Images courtesy of WikiCells.