FOOD AND ECOLOGY

First spoons, now chopsticks: Edible cutlery is being developed for a zero-waste future

The challenge is to make the cutlery durable and yet tasty.

This month, diners at Casa Afeliz Ginza and Umato, two restaurants in Tokyo, bit into their chopsticks, once they were done with their meal, and proceeded to eat them. According to Rocket News, the edible chopsticks, developed by the Tokyo-based Marushige Confectionery, were made from igusa, a reed used in the manufacturing of tatami mats.

While the taste of these chopsticks might not have people excited, the fact that they are edible and bio-degradable does. The chopsticks are part of a slow revolution building to eliminate disposable cutlery made from non-biodegradable material, mostly plastic.

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An Indian company, Bakey’s, has been manufacturing spoons made from rice, millet and wheat since 2011. In March 2016, it posted on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to find funding for the mass production of these spoons. The initiative by Naryanana Peesapaty, a former researcher with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, reached its goal (and more) within a month.

“Just throw the spoons in mud or in a potted plant to decompose after use if you do not wish to eat it,” says the Bakey’s website about its product, which comes in three flavours. The spoons are nutritious, use no preservatives and have a shelf life of almost three years.

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It was after being handed a greasy, already used plastic spoon, to eat his plate of idli sambhar at a restaurant that Peesapaty decided to develop a product which can become a substitute for disposable cutlery and one which can decompose when exposed to outside elements in a matter of days.

The first prototype, a small spoon, would break too easily and was too small for practical use. The design that followed looked more like a regular stainless steel spoon, but to the disappointment of Peesapaty and his wife and business partner, Pradnya Keskar, they would break at the slightest pressure into a bowl of food.

“What you see now was made in 2014 and we have been selling that shape ever since,” said Keskar. “This is the sturdiest spoon. We made prototypes and samples of different shapes, but not commercially yet as the investment is huge. None of the shapes of cutlery we make will break or dissolve in any hot or cold liquid, as it has no fat content. It will break only when pressed harder in the wrong angle or just for fun if someone drops it on the floor to deliberately break it.”

The need for edible cutlery and other plastic substitutes has become more pressing since the use of plastic products has been banned in almost 10 states in India, including the Capital.

The video uploaded on their Kickstarter page claims that every year, 120 billion pieces of disposable plastic cutlery are discarded in India. According to a study, published in Science journal in 2010, of the 192 countries that are responsible for almost 12.7 metric tonnes of plastic waste entering the ocean via their respective coastlines, India ranks 12th in the list. A survey conducted by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 60 cities in 2015 revealed that they generate 15,342.5 tonnes of plastic waste per day.

Peesapaty said that if the world is given an alternative, these numbers could go down.

Military grade cutlery

Bakey’s strategy has been to highlight the health benefits of using cutlery made from natural substances rather than its ecological advances. It explains on its website that “plastic contains chemical complexes, several of which are neuro-toxic and carcinogenic. These leach into food. In fact, even the so called food grade cutlery is that, where this leaching is within permissible levels of 60 Parts Per Million. When you know that the substances that leach can cause cancer and impact your nervous system, why should you allow even one part per million”.

In various videos uploaded on YouTube, the founder of Bakey’s Food Pvt Ltd, can be seen biting off a piece of his spoon and exclaiming, “Delicious!”. According to a BuzzFeed experiment, though, using these spoons was not a smooth ride, with it sometimes breaking in the middle of a meal, altering the taste of coffee and it being downright strange to eat one’s cutlery.

India’s Defence Food Research Laboratory too has been working on developing and introducing a line of environmental-friendly cutlery for the armed forces. In February 2017, a Deccan Herald report said: “Since the patent application for these indigenously developed cutlery is being processed, Pandit Srihari S, technical officer of DFRL, said that he could not reveal the material used in their making. ‘When you eat an ice cream, you eat the cone, too. We produced this cutlery with the same thought-process,’ Srihari said.”

Scientists have been experimenting for almost a year, testing materials to see which one can maintain form and hold for a while before crumpling or getting soaked through. There is also the need to make these as light as possible, to reduce the burden on the soldiers.

Apart from what are mostly tasteless and cracker-like spoons and forks that have made news in the market, there are also biscotti spoons which come in different flavours – fudge, vanilla, chocolate – and can be dipped straight into a cup of coffee to stir in some sugar and then bitten into for a perfect snack.

Edible spoons seem like the cool new thing with innovations like, well, “The Edible Spoon Maker”, in the works. A kitchen appliance being developed in the US, the Edible Spoon Maker works like a waffle iron in concept, but instead of waffles, you get fresh spoons that can be made out of store-bought dough, phyllo pastry, pancake mix or anything that you feel could hold up as the real thing in under 5 minutes.

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Twitter seems to be excited about the prospect of never having to wash spoons ever again.

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Young Indians now like their traditional food with a twist

Indian food with international influences is here to stay.

With twenty-nine states and over 50 ethnic groups, India’s diversity is mind-boggling to most foreigners. This diversity manifests itself across areas from clothing to art and especially to food. With globalisation, growth of international travel and availability of international ingredients, the culinary diversity of India has become progressively richer.

New trends in food are continuously introduced to the Indian palate and are mainly driven by the demands of generation Y. Take the example of schezwan idlis and dosas. These traditional South Indian snacks have been completely transformed by simply adding schezwan sauce to them – creating a dish that is distinctly Indian, but with an international twist. We also have the traditional thepla transformed into thepla tacos – combining the culinary flavours of India and Mexico! And cous cous and quinoa upma – where niche global ingredients are being used to recreate a beloved local dish. Millennials want a true fusion of foreign flavours and ingredients with Indian dishes to create something both Indian and international.

So, what is driving these changes? Is it just the growing need for versatility in the culinary experiences of millennials? Or is it greater exposure to varied cultures and their food habits? It’s a mix of both. Research points to the rising trend to seek out new cuisines that are not only healthy, but are also different and inspired by international flavours.

The global food trend of ‘deconstruction’ where a food item is broken down into its component flavours and then reconstructed using completely different ingredients is also catching on for Indian food. Restaurants like Masala Library (Mumbai), Farzi Café (Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru) and Pink Poppadum (Bengaluru) are pushing the boundaries of what traditional Indian food means. Things like a kulcha pizza, dal chaawal cutlet and chutney foam are no longer inconceivable. Food outlets that stock exotic ingredients and brands that sell traditional Indian packaged snacks in entirely new flavours are also becoming more common across cities.

When it comes to the flavours themselves, some have been embraced more than others. Schezwan sauce, as we’ve mentioned, is now so popular that it is sometimes even served with traditional chakna at Indian bars. Our fascination with the spicy red sauce is however slowly being challenged by other flavours. Wasabi introduced to Indian foodies in Japanese restaurants has become a hit among spice loving Indians with its unique kick. Peri Peri, known both for its heat and tanginess, on the other hand was popularised by the famous UK chain Nandos. And finally, there is the barbeque flavour – the condiment has been a big part of India’s love for American fast food.

Another Indian snack that has been infused with international flavours is the beloved aloo bhujia. While the traditional gram-flour bhujia was first produced in 1877 in the princely state of Bikaner in Rajasthan, aloo bhujia came into existence once manufacturers started experimenting with different flavours. Future Consumer Limited’s leading food brand Tasty Treat continues to experiment with the standard aloo bhujia to cater to the evolving consumer tastes. Keeping the popularity of international flavours in mind, Tasty Treat’s has come up with a range of Firangi Bhujia, an infusion of traditional aloo bhujia with four of the most craved international flavours – Wasabi, Peri Peri, Barbeque and Schezwan.

Tasty Treat’s range of Firangi Bhujia has increased the versatility of the traditional aloo bhujia. Many foodies are already trying out different ways to use it as a condiment to give their favourite dish an extra kick. Archana’s Kitchen recommends pairing the schezwan flavoured Firangi Bhujia with manchow soup to add some crunch. Kalyan Karmakar sprinkled the peri peri flavoured Firangi Bhujia over freshly made poha to give a unique taste to a regular breakfast item. Many others have picked a favourite amongst the four flavours, some admiring the smoky flavour of barbeque Firangi Bhujia and some enjoying the fiery taste of the peri peri flavour.

Be it the kick of wasabi in the crunch of bhujia, a bhujia sandwich with peri peri zing, maska pav spiced with schezwan bhujia or barbeque bhujia with a refreshing cold beverage - the new range of Firangi Bhujia manages to balance the novelty of exotic flavours with the familiarity of tradition. To try out Tasty Treat’s Firangi Bhujia, find a store near you.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Tasty Treat and not by the Scroll editorial team.