The WikiCell, an organic packaging from inventor and designer David Edwards, creates an electrostatic gel around food items, keeping them clean and edible.

The cell can be used for everything from soda to yogurt, and because it withstands washing, it’s edible, too.

Edwards says his inspiration was the orange, along with grapes and coconuts, which protect water-logged contents with an organic shell.

The cell is made from a crushed food like nuts or seeds (depending on the contents), mixed with healthy ions like calcium and chitosan, a common polysaccharide derived from the shells of shrimp.

Together, they form a gel-like material that can be tailored to the food inside--like a little amuse bouche before the main course.

Co.Design

The Futuristic Food Packaging You Can Eat, Even After Washing It

Mad scientist David Edwards imagines consumers buying self-contained, washable balls of soda, yogurt, and cheese at the grocery store.

Remember David Edwards, the Harvard professor behind smokable chocolate and inhalable coffee? When we last wrote about Edwards, in March, he was introducing Wahh, a Philippe Starck-designed canister that delivers puffs of vaporized alcohol. Since then, Edwards’s team has been back in the kitchen, working with designer François Azambourg to develop the WikiCell, a product that has implications for the food industry that move well beyond novelty.

A great PRI report from earlier this week introduces us to the WikiCell, an edible packaging that attempts to reduce the massive amount of packaging used to sell food. "Think about the skin of a grape and how it protects the grape itself," explains Edwards on WikiCell’s website. "This is how a WikiCell works. This soft skin may be comprised primarily of small particles of chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, or many other natural substances with delicious taste and often useful nutrients. Inside the skin may be liquid fruit juice, or thick pudding."

A WikiCell (alternate name: Occupy Food?) is made from a few basic ingredients. First, Edwards and Azambourg start with a crushed food like chocolate, seeds, or nuts, depending on what’s inside the cell. That’s mixed with healthy ions like calcium and chitosan, a common polysaccharide derived from the shells of shrimp. Together, they form a gel-like material that can hold everything from cocktails to yogurt.

"I get home, and I hand [the food] to my son, and he hands it to his friend," Edwards tells PRI. "And then the friend says, 'But did you wash your hands?' At that point, I clean it as I do fruit and vegetables today. I can run water over it, and it doesn’t dissolve, actually. And it can be cleaned, and then I can eat it."

This definitely isn’t the first or even tenth attempt at edible food packaging. For example, Diane Leclair Besson is developing an edible plate that won a Core77 Design Award last month. But beyond the technical advantages of WikiCells (the whole washing thing is impressive), Edwards might have a leg up on his competition with his experience launching challenging products into the consumer market. In September, he secured $10 million in venture capital from Flagship Ventures and Polaris Venture Partners.

The money has helped the team carry out its first consumer tests (perhaps surprisingly, few seem to have a problem with the concept) and found WikiCell Designs as an independent company. In 2013, Edwards plans to open a "WikiBar" in Paris, where visitors will be able to try the company’s first commercial product: WikiCell Ice Cream.

[H/t PRI]

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12 Comments

  • Soeverein

    In its current form I don't see it becoming a success for "normal" food. The arguments have been given more than enough below.

    I think it has tremendous potential for appetisers treats or as a small snack however.

  • Rory Shallis

    While its a interesting and very progressive concept, its fails to connect with the emotional linkage around packaging & the consumer's needs.  

  • TRussert

    Let's all just take poison instead and get it over quickly rather then drag out a self poisoning slower death for food marketing benefits.

  • Megmassey

    Reducing packaging is really a great idea. They could package kids toys in this stuff and then serve it as part of party food--i doubt that, but I am sure there is waste reduction potential in this in this technonogy. 

    Pet food in edible packaging could be cool. Feed the dog some treats and when they are all gone feed the pup the box as well.

  • Keikeibelle

    I have a similar concern as Charity.  I am allergic to shellfish.  Nuts are also generally a large allergen to people.  Will the food come with an allergen note due to the packaging?

  • Elliot Rossbach

    Why does cheese need edible packaging, it already has it....and hard cheeses are as easily washed as his product would be. How do I spread this cheese on crackers? If it keeps germs out and moisture in, and I eat it, aren't I eating the germs on the outside? And if I don't eat it, then what's the point? We can make biodegradable packaging. And how will it effect the taste of the product contained within. It's an interesting concept, but most foods occuring in nature already have edible packaging, and I can't really picture using this for foods that don't.  I don't want to eat a ball of peanut butter, I want a peanut butter and banana sandwich.  I don't want a ball of yoghurt with breakfast, I want a cup of yoghurt that I can mix fruit and granola into.  I'm so baffled as to why people like this idea....I'm sure I'm missing something.

    Oh and why is Edwards eating the food intended for the friend of his son in the example situation?   Nothing in this story makes sense to me.

  • JSPA

    Completely agree. Cheese has a rind. And if you want truly biodegradable packaging that also serves as a container (not a food) I'd have to say that the various folded leaves (banana leaf and others) used in much of SE Asia work very well for cooking (steaming) transport and serving, and they impart a delicate flavor, at the same time. In parts of Africa, the teak tree leaf is used.  Cassava leaves also work well. Chestnut, grape and fig-leaf wrapped soft and hard cheeses have a long history in Europe. US cheesemakers have used apple and maple leaves, too. As all of these are side products of food production anyway, it's very eco to harvest and use them. 

  • Medicinainternaynutricion

    Great idea.“That skin keeps moisture inside, and it keeps germs and other things outside,” Dr Edward's

  • Nic Johnson

    Are you supposed to take the cheese out of the Wiki Cell before eating it, or just down the whole lump?

  • jingyeow

    Am I missing a vital bit of information? It looks like those surfaces will pick up a lot more dirt than a grape skin which is both harder to wash off and will leads to bits like sesame seeds being washed off...

  • Charity

    I dont think its a good idea,what if I do not want to eat nuts with what ever that is cover by it,it just does not make sense to me.