Prof David Edwards

WikiCells: food packaging you can eat

Professor David Edwards is at it again. Having already developed creations that include inhalable chocolate, inhalable caffeine, and a tuberculosis vaccine in the form of a spray, the innovative biomedical engineer from Harvard is now introducing WikiCells: a new edible packaging technology that allows individuals to eat and transport food without plastic.

For this project, he wanted to create a bottle based on how nature creates bottles, citing grapes as an example of one of nature’s “bottles.” WikiCells imitate such natural packaging by enclosing food and liquid in an edible membrane.

The membrane, which is comprised of a charged polymer and food particles, is in turn protected by a hard shell which can be broken away much like that of an egg.

“The idea was to try to create a bottle which was based on how nature creates bottles,” Edwards said of his motivation for developing WikiCells, citing grapes as an example of one of nature’s “bottles.”

WikiCells imitate such natural packaging by enclosing food and liquid in an edible membrane. This membrane, which is comprised of a charged polymer and food particles, is in turn protected by a hard shell which can be broken away much like that of an egg.

Edwards and his team have thus far developed a variety of different platforms for WikiCells, which can be served as meals, drinks, and snacks.

Edwards described a few of the WikiCells that his team has created: a tomato membrane containing gazpacho soup that can be poured over bread, an orange membrane filled with orange juice that you can drink with a straw, smaller grape-like membrane holding wine, and a chocolate membrane containing hot chocolate. 

“There’s an infinite variety [of possibilities]. People can make whatever they want,” Edwards said.

Edwards explained that he plans to develop WikiCells further so that they will someday be commercially available to the broader public.

“In the near term, we will be encountering Wikicells in restaurant settings,” he said. After that, Edwards plans to expand WikiCells to specialty stores and supermarkets. Eventually, he even hopes to develop a product platform for WikiCells, which would allow individuals to produce their own edible bottles.

“People in a village in Africa could become plastic bottle-free and make things for themselves. It’s really exciting from a humanitarian point of view.”

More on WikiCells:

WikiCells are novel edible forms for eating and drinking transportable foods and drinks without plastic. Useful as foods and drinks for restaurants, homes, and offices, for delivery to and purchase in stores, and for production and delivery to places in the world where the recycling and disposal of plastic produces a major human and environmental hazard.

WikiCells emerged out of an idea funded initially by the Wyss Institute in David Edwards ES20 class (specifically realized in the design of the recently commercial CellBag), and, later, a design exhibition at Le Laboratoire in Paris with French designer Francois Azambourg and Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber.

From the early inspiration of the biological cell, the technology has since evolved as a food product technology within LaboGroup, the commercial incubator of ArtScience Labs, with initial commercial sales and development in the FoodLab.

WikiCells consist of a natural food membrane held together by electrostatic forces and containing a liquid, emulsion, foam, or solid food substance possibly within an edible or biodegradable shell.

They can be produced by consumers with a WikiCell Machine in a practically inexhaustible variety of membranes and forms and with a wide range of food and drinks.

WikiCells use special membrane technology that permits the fabrication of thin delicious membranes with significant water diffusional resistance and adjoined shells that allow for stability of the WikiCells over long periods of time.

Source: Harvard University