Portuguese university teams come up with edible alternative to plastic-wrap

Imagine edible food-wrap that ‘looks like plastic’ but is in fact edible – and helps keep the produce it’s protecting fresh.

This is what investigators from Coimbra university in collaboration with ESAC, the city’s agricultural college, have come up with.

The ingenious wrap is made from ‘left-overs’ from the animal feed and fisheries sector.

Says a statement issued by the University of Coimbra today, it “constitutes a sustainable alternative to plastic”, and is basically “films obtained from different food residues, namely potato and quince skins, fruit ‘out of standardised characteristics’ and crustacean shells”.

Way beyond the simple act of wrapping food, these films manage to prolong its shelf life – and if you’re peckish on the way home, you could (if you really felt like it) eat them.

Another plus of course is that if pets decide they want to ‘devour the packaging’, they won’t become seriously ill.

In a way, the news just continues to get better. The wrap was created by three women: Marisa Gaspar, Mara Braga and Patrícia Almeida Coimbra and “incorporates bioactive compounds like antioxidants and probiotics with potentially beneficial effects for one’s health”.

Taken to the enth degree, this means “it is possible to cook broccoli or asparagus without ever removing them from their packaging, as the wrap that surrounds them is made of natural nutrients”.

“We have produced differentiated film compositions using residues almost in their entirety which contain compounds with different properties”, said the trio who works out of FCTUC – the university’s Science and Technology faculty.

“Potato peelings have more starch, quince skins more pectin. In other words, we have two structural polymeric materials which when combined make a simple film, without the need for complex processing”.

The three investigators make it all sound so easy, but as SIC television explains there were many stages required to get to this ‘revolution’ in sustainable packaging – not least the narrowing down of which materials were best to use.

But the bottom line is that they ended up producing a solution “as advantageous for the industry as it is for the consumer”.

Say the three young scientists: “It’s an approach centred on the circular economy. It doesn’t simply increase shelf-life, it avoids waste, reduces the serious environmental problem of plastic waste and creates a new product that can actually make the food even more nutritious”.

What we have to wait for now is how/ when this ingenious research is taken onboard by the food packaging industry.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com