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.