MILK, NOT PLASTIC
As the old saying goes, you can't have your cake and eat it too. But soon, people may be able to eat the packaging that comes with their cake.
To break this down a bit, plastic is considered to be one of the easiest ways to keep food fresh, but the widespread availability of cheaply produced plastics is wreaking havoc on the environment—plus it's found to be not terribly good at preventing food spoilage. Now, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture may have found a solution… and it's one that's made out of milk.
At the recently held American Chemical Society National Meeting, the team unveiled an edible plastic wrap made entirely out of casein, a milk protein that has been shown to be up to 500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food. Just to be clear, there are already edible packaging varieties on the market, but these are typically made of the more porous starch, which allows oxygen to seep through its microholes.
These milk-based films, meanwhile, have smaller pores, allowing it to create a tighter network to keep the oxygen out.
“The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage. When used in packaging, they could prevent food waste during distribution along the food chain,” said research leader Peggy Tomasula, D.Sc.
The casein-based wrapping looks much like the conventional plastic wrap, but that's where the similarity ends.
According to the team, the milk packaging is less stretchy, edible, and made almost entirely of proteins. Currently, the wrapping doesn’t have much taste, but researchers said flavorings as well as nutritious additives, like vitamins and probiotics, could be added in the future.
“The coatings applications for this product are endless,” said Laetitia Bonnaillie, Ph.D., co-leader of the study. “We are currently testing applications such as single-serve, edible food wrappers. For instance, individually wrapped cheese sticks use a large proportion of plastic—we would like to fix that.”