The inspiration came from fruit, says David Edwards, the French-American Harvard engineer who invented Wikicells, an eco-friendly wrap, half way between science and art. The orange or peach have their own convenient built-in edible package. And this is what >WikiCells are, a revolutionary way to wrap food.
A yogurt can now have a skin (of WikiCells) which - like a peel - is a sort of durable, biodegradable packaging. Not only they reduce wrap wasting, they also enhance the eating experience. At least according to their inventor, Harvard engineer and professor David Edwards, and to people who already had a taste and describe it as a fascinating new way of eating.
The soft skin of WikiCells is made from vegetal elements using an exclusive technology. In particular, WikiCells can be made from natural particles of chocolate, fruit, nuts and grains, using only a tiny portion of chitosan (biochemical polymer) or alginate (algae extract). These particles carry an electrostatic charge and can be gelatinised with ions of calcium, magnesium, etc., in order to create the skin.
The shells of WikiCells are made from bagasse (the fibrous residue from sugar cane) or Isomalt (a sweetener currently used in alimentation), to which food particles are added. The potential combinations of flavours, tastes and recipes are endless. WikiCells won a special prize for innovation at the last SIAL, the world’s leading food exhibition and marketplace, in Paris.
Are WikiCells actually edible but not likely to be eaten (as the orange peel)? How are they like?
WikiCells are generally fully edible. More precisely they are formed with (delicious) "skins" made primarily of natural food particles. These are soft and keep the moisture in the food. Generally the soft skin has a hard shell around it. This may be edible, as in a cookie shell, or chocolate, caramel, algae etc. shell.
Or - as in cases where WikiCells will sell in mass-distribution outlets - they may be in shells that are (like a coconut shell) simply fully biodegradable. Cellophane, tapioca, bagasse are all possible secondary packaging in the mass-distribution mode. If the secondary packaging is edible (and not just compostable), you may wish to clean it before eating, or, like the orange peel, not eat the outside shell (which will simply dissolve anyway in water).
So you do see them spreading as a large-scale product?
We do see WikiCells become a mass consumption experience. But also an intimate, private, and more exclusive experience. Many things are like this. Wine, for instance. WikiCells originated in a high-end, experimental cuisine environment, and are moving out from here to general consumption. This is a thrilling process.
Are all WikiCells mono-bite size? What kind of food can be ‘wikicelled’?
WikiCells are not necessarily mono-bite forms. WikiCell Cocktails are for instance often made in apple-size forms. But the small size is interesting. With normal packaging, reducing the food to small sizes wastes packaging. You end up using much more of it. When you can eat the packaging that problem goes away! We have expanded our WikiCells to include ice cream, yoghurts, mousses and juices, cocktails, cheeses, coffee. We're working on other things too. You can imagine that any one of these foods becomes a universe unto itself. So there is a lot to do.
Where and when will WikiCells be available?
WikiCells will be commercially available from March 2013 at the WikiBar in Paris, and elsewhere later in the year. The WikiBar is at Le Laboratoire in central Paris. Currently private tastings are happening each week at the WikiBar prior to its public opening. It is a retail environment we've created to introduce the public to this radical new way of eating. It is participatory, fun, and informative, a great place to first experience WikiCells. As time goes by you will be finding WikiCells in restaurants, take-out stores, grocery and supermarket stores, and many other places where foods are traditionally sold.
What about people’s feedbacks?
Generally the public is very positive. When the packaging becomes edible, there is a new nutrition/texture/visual experience, and some WikiCell experiences are more radically different, surprising than others. Based on public reaction we have modified tastes, textures, sizes, and more.
Your favorite WikiCell experience?
I love WikiCell yoghurt and coffee. Both are grape size. WikiCell Coffee has a veil of chocolate around a delicious dark coffee or cappuccino. It's great cold or you can heat it up in a microwave. WikiCell Yoghurts are Greek yoghurt grapes surrounded by raspberry, or vanilla, or mint pea (yes, it's actually very good!) skins. There's really no limit to the kinds of skins you can make, the combinations are endless.
Why are WikiCells called WikiCells?
The term WikiCells refers to the origin (like a biological cell) and public experience (the public can 'edit' WikiCells endlessly). This latter point will be seen at WikiBars, where people will have a chance to design their own packaging, but also there will eventually be home machines to make any form you wish.