After many trials for texture, sogginess, hand feel and utility, they managed to come up with a viable product. To add a splash of colour, they mix in spinach, beetroot or carrot pulp. There are no emulsifiers, additives, fats or preservatives – only natural ingredients. The dough is baked at high temperatures in moulds in semi-automatic machines. You may think they’re fragile but jowar gives them a hard and crisp texture, Mr Peesapaty clarifies. The material is tough enough to retain most foods and sauces, and is also easily digestible. When immersed in liquid (hot or cold) completely, they’d last for 10 minutes. Kept sealed in air-tight containers, they’ll stay fresh close to three months. They're usually neutral tasting but spices like pepper, kala namak
can be added for flavor.
“We didn’t want to experiment with too many products. Plates weren’t feasible. Once placed on the table you may not want to eat them and in fact you shouldn’t for hygienic reasons. They'll end up in the bin which would add to wasteful resources. Even cups would crack easily and cause spillage. But we’re planning to create straws,” he informs. The unique venture started out distinctly exciting but baked into a bit of a disappointment due to lack of funding. This has created some constraints in using the appropriate technology and manufacturing many shapes. Future ambitions are a bit blurry as they’ve limited themselves to the lunch spoon while they raise funds.
“We’re working on educating consumers and encouraging them to make the switch from plastic . I’ve visited several manufacturing units around the country and was utterly disappointed to see some use only a piece of rag to clean the final products when extracted from the mould. These are simply packed and distributed without sterilization. Back home, most of us don't even bother washing them before use. There are many guidelines for food safety in our country but barely any norms for the production of utensils used for consuming food,” shares Mr. Peesapaty. In a very competitive market, hygiene is perhaps the first casualty.
The concept is an environmental no-brainer. These spoons decompose naturally within 3 to7 weeks and if eaten by insects or animals they do not disrupt the food chain. “You may wonder why we’d manufacture chopsticks given the small consumer base in our country but it’s for a larger cause. Most chopsticks are used in Japan but produced in China. Since they’re made of bamboo, there has been mass deforestation to create more land for bamboo cultivation. On the other hand, it’s a Japanese ritual to burn the chopsticks after use. Forests are depleting and carbon emissions are on a rise. With our edible and biodegradable chopsticks, we’re taking a small step towards the conservation of biodiversity,” says Mr Peesapaty while signing off. It's as fun to crunch into your cutlery as it is environmental-friendly. Plastic spoons are convenient but damaging, edible spoons on the other can cut down waste.
In 2006, this initiative was selected by the CII-USAID-World Resources Institute and listed among top ten sustainable businesses. The international scenario is no different. Dr Zoe Laughlin and Professor Mark Miodownik, co-directors of the Institute of Making at University College London have conducted a series of scientific experiments to find out if cutlery can be considered a part of the flavour of a dish. They organised a spoon-tasting dinner which was attended by materials scientists, psychologists and culinary luminaries such as Heston Blumenthal and Harold McGee.
Laughlin, who is an artist as well as a scientist, designed the spoons and got them electroplated with different metals that were not exactly edible but non-toxic. Participants were served a complex Indian dinner and the results were quite surprising. While the zinc coated spoon made the baked black cod unpleasant, it enhanced the sweet-sour flavour of the mango relish. Tin was the perfect match for pistachio curry and the gold plated spoon paired well with sweets. “I can imagine a spoon being part of a dish,” Heston was quoted saying.