Edible Films As Scrumptious Packaging
Edible films are not a new phenomenon; many of us are familiar with leaf gelatine and rice paper.
But perhaps less well appreciated are the edible films that can be used as surface coatings to improve durability, enhance appearance, prevent moisture transfer or control the diffusion of preservatives from the exterior into the foodstuff.
They can also be used to carry active food grade additives or functional ingredients to contribute towards the stability and nutritional value of a food.
Edible films offer the promise of microbial stability, convenience, exciting new product developments and even environmental benefits. With the versatility and established safety of many gum polymers, novel applications for such films seem almost limitless.
The increasingly adventurous use of edible films can greatly enhance the organoleptic properties of many foods by incorporating flavorings, colourings and sweeteners into the edible packaging and may offer novel ways to pack individual portions of food. This opens up whole new areas of packaging for products such as soft fruits that for practical reasons are not currently individually wrapped.
With so much focus on reducing packaging in the current climate, it may seem out of step to be highlighting opportunities for introducing packaging of individual portions. However, edible
films and coatings have received considerable attention in recent years because of their great potential to reduce and simplify the packaging materials required for the protection of food products. They afford numerous advantages over conventional, nonedible synthetic polymeric packaging due to their biodegradability, inherent ability to be consumed as part of the goods and derivation from natural sources.
An edible film has a lot to contend with – as a food component it should be tasteless, non toxic and compliant with global food regulations. As a packaging material it needs to be robust, meeting with predefined mechanical properties to protect food quality and maintain its integrity during handling and transportation.
Using a texture analyser, a range of measurements including tensile, shear and compression figures can be recorded. In addition to measuring stress and strain in a material, coating characteristics such as adhesiveness may be critical. The product may have to stick to a food, fix a coating or give a glossy finish, or indeed the function of the film may be to reduce adhesion.
It is predicted that a whole range of new applications for edible films will become apparent in the coming months and years as a result of their versatility and potential to offer technical solutions to difficult processing and packaging food challenges. Our company works closely with the food industry to develop a wide range of innovative equipment to test every physical aspect of these edible films, opening up new and exciting applications in an industry where consumers have such high expectations of consistent taste, texture and appearance.
As the convenience, environmental appeal and microbial stability of food films is one of the biggest selling points for developing new products, it is likely that the future for edible films is limited only by the imagination.