So Hot Right Now

An Edible, Plastic Wrap-Equivalent Made From an Everyday Drink

August 22, 2016

We're all looking for advice on what to do with the ticking time bombs that are dairy products lingering in the fridge.

And, as milk consumption in the U.S. falls but supply remains stable, dairy farms are faced with the same problem. Their solution, according to CBC News, is to store that milk as milk powder. Which presents another problem: What to do with all of that milk powder?

It was this question that got scientists at the USDA dairy research unit thinking: Peggy Tomasula and Laetitia Bonnaillie have created a biodegradable plastic wrap-equivalent made from the milk protein casein in addition to citrus pectin and salt, Eater reports. They presented the material yesterday at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Image in this plastic wrap were made of milk! Just imagine it. Photo by James Ransom

The new milk-based cling wrap, theoretically, could solve a lot of problems:

  • It would, as mentioned, give a purpose to all that excess milk powder.
  • It's biodegradable and even edible (and there's potential to add flavoring).
  • It keeps food fresher than traditional plastic wrap: It's "up to 500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food," Mirror reports, which means the material could help fight food waste, too. (The smaller pores in this edible wrapping makes it more effective at keeping that oxygen out.)
  • The citrus pectin makes the wrap resistant to humidity and high temperatures.
  • There's no risk of chemicals leaching into food, a concern for many who avoid traditional plastic wraps.

But would it be vegan? Can it be heated and frozen? The other potential downside is that the milk-based wrap is less sticky and stretchy than traditional cling film—but the group plans "to keep making improvements" the researchers told EurekAlert. Bonnaillie "predicts this casein packaging will be on store shelves within 3 years."

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Right now, the research team predicts the wrap will be used mostly for single-serve packaging (cheese singles, string cheese, individual cakes and snacks, deli meats), and Bonnaillie says that her group has created prototypes for a small Texas company and that bigger businesses like Whole Foods have been monitoring the progress.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • dinner at ten
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  • HalfPint
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


dinner A. August 22, 2016
This is insane; dairy production (at least in the US) is heavily based on feeding cows grain that is grown with large amounts of fertilizers that are made from petroleum. Its production is also heavily subsidized by the government (this is also why the dairy farmers don't reduce their production in keeping with a drop in demand). Cows are also major contributors to greenhouse gases -- methane, which their ruminant digestion yields in large quantities, is about 20x more potent that CO2 as a greenhouse gas. So, making a cling wrap from milk would be an extremely inefficient, heavily subsidized, and polluting way to do it. Maybe it has some particularly nice properties, but they don't seem worth it, and if its true cost were considered it would be very high.
HalfPint August 22, 2016
This would be awesome.