This Edible Packaging Is Made From Milk Protein

Between K-cups, 100-calorie packs, and meal delivery boxes, it’s safe to say our culture has reached peak Single Serving saturation. Unfortunately, all that convenience results in mountains and mountains of plastic waste. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have come up with an intriguing alternative: edible packaging made of a milk protein called casein. They presented their invention in Philadelphia today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). 

Plastic packaging film is kind of a disaster. It’s made from petroleum, that most unsustainable of resources. It can’t be recycled, doesn’t break down in landfills, and leaches harmful chemicals into the environment and our bodies. And once it’s opened, it can’t do much to keep the food inside from spoiling. 

So yeah, an alternative would be good. Enter casein biofilm (not the catchiest name, but it’ll do for now). This thin wrapper is made of milk protein mixed with citrus pectin, which makes it tougher and more resistant to heat and humidity. It looks like plastic and handles like plastic, but it’s 500 times better at protecting its contents from spoilage-inducing oxygen, the researchers claim. Its ingredients are far more sustainable than dinosaur-made petroleum. And because it’s made of food, it can be eaten or composted, as you can see in this ACS video.

"The coatings applications for this product are endless,” study co-leader Laetitia Bonnaillie said in a press statement. "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." 

But wait! There’s more! A lot of cereals are coated in additional sugar to keep them from getting soggy. A super-thin casein coating would serve the same purpose without hastening your next visit to the dentist. Other potential uses for the biofilm include lining pizza boxes to protect them from grease and providing the laminate on boxes and plastic pouches. 

Bonaillie and her colleagues say they expect to have the product on grocery store shelves in the next three years.

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New Clear Coating for Everyday Objects Repels Practically All Liquids

A new clear coating that is said to repel just about everything—peanut butter included—aims to halt the advance of sticky fingers. Developed by researchers at the University of Michigan, the substance can be applied to a variety of surfaces to keep them smudge- and crud-free, including smartphone and laptop screens, windows, walls, and countertops.

Researchers used algorithms to predict which substances would yield an efficient omniphobic coating, or in other words, something capable of repelling oils, alcohols, and other liquids while remaining durable and smooth. Made from a mix of fluorinated polyurethane and a fluid-repellent molecule called F-POSS, the coating can be “sprayed, brushed, dipped, or spin-coated onto a wide variety of surfaces, where it binds tightly,” according to the University of Michigan’s website.

The team’s findings were published in the March issue of the journal ACS Applied Materials Interfaces. Associate professor Anish Tuteja, who headed up the University of Michigan research team, says it could be a godsend for parents of young tots.

"I have a 2-year-old at home, so for me, this particular project was about more than just the science," Tuteja said in a statement. "We're excited about what this could do to make homes and daycares cleaner places, and we're looking at a variety of possible applications in industry as well."

The team is currently conducting follow-up tests to ensure the coating is nontoxic, but if all checks out, it could find its way into kindergarten classes and daycare centers within the next two years.

Child-proofing everyday objects for the sake of cleanliness isn’t its only potential application, though. The university notes that it could be beneficial to “all industries that depend on the condensation of liquids,” such as refrigeration, power generation, and oil refining.

In recent years, other researchers have set out to create omniphobic coatings, some of which have been successful. However, this undertaking is typically challenging and involves complex synthetic chemistry, according to Chemistry World.

Why You Never See Fresh Olives at the Grocery Store

If given a choice, most grocery shoppers prefer fresh produce over something that's been pumped full of preservatives. Yet shoppers are almost never given that choice when it comes to olives. The small, meaty fruits can be found floating in brines, packed in cans, and stuffed with pimentos, but they're hardly ever shipped to the store straight off the tree. As the video series Reactions explains, there's a good reason for that.

In their natural state, because they contain high concentrations of a bitter-tasting compound called oleuropein, fresh olives are practically inedible. To make the food palatable, olive producers have to get rid of these nasty-tasting chemicals, either by soaking them in water, fermenting them in salt brine, or treating them with sodium hydroxide.

Because of its speed, food manufacturers prefer the sodium hydroxide method. Commonly known as lye, sodium hydroxide accelerates the chemical breakdown of oleuropein into compounds that have a less aggressive taste. While other processes can take several weeks to work, sodium hydroxide only takes one week.

Afterward, the olives are washed to remove the caustic lye, then packed with water and salt to extend their shelf life, giving them their distinct briny flavor.

For more on the chemistry of olives, check out the full video from Reactions below.

[h/t Reactions]


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