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Indian researchers develop nutritious edible cups to replace conventional plastic applications

#Indian researchers develop nutritious edible cups to replace conventional plastic applications

14 Nov 2023 — Researchers of the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IIT Roorkee) have developed the country’s first Kodo Millets-based edible cups to “revolutionize” the packaging industry. 

Kodo millets, a nutritious and drought-resistant cereal grain, were chosen as the core material for the cup due to their abundance and nutritional value. The millets are rich in essential nutrients, making them a good choice for edible packaging and a complementary food source. 

The developed edible cups function well compared to conventional plastic cups, professor Kirtiraj K. Gaikwad, assistant professor for Packaging Technology Discipline at the Department of Paper Technology, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, tells Packaging Insights

“Our cups can hold hot beverages like coffee without disintegration for a minimum of 60 minutes. For cold beverages, we found that holding time can be up to three hours or even more. The shelf life of cups is intermediate with the required barrier packaging.”

“Since these cups are also food products, they require appropriate packaging with a high moisture barrier. On the lab scale, we packed the cups by wrapping them in aluminum foils with a moisture absorber, and the shelf life found was up to three months,” says Gaikwad.

Drinking cup with whipped cream on top and straw.The biodegradable cups offer a cost-effective alternative to plastic-based solutions.Cost-effective and sustainable
The project’s objective was to address the growing concerns of plastic pollution and environmental degradation caused by non-biodegradable packaging materials. The team aimed to create a cost-effective and biodegradable alternative that can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of packaging in various industries.

“On the lab scale, the estimated cost for one cup is US$0.03. We believe that the cost will be reduced significantly when produced on a large scale for commercial applications,” says Gaikwad.

“In our advanced Kodo millet-based cups, the primary raw material is Kodo millet flour. Additionally, we incorporate refined wheat flour to ensure structural integrity, natural guar gum as a binder, sugar for flavor enhancement, and hibiscus powder to boost the antioxidant properties of the cups.”

Since the cups are edible, their composition is highly nutritious. Kodo millets are a rich source of proteins, dietary fibers, and many micronutrients like calcium, iron and B vitamins. 

“One Kodo Cup can offer around 2.4 g of protein and 2.97 mg of iron. Moreover, with the addition of hibiscus powder, the antioxidant potential of cups has increased. Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation and prevent cell damage. Antioxidants are linked to reducing the risk of many diseases, like cardiovascular diseases and cancers,” asserts Gaikwad.

Upscaling plans
The project was carried out by Bhushan Meshram, a packaging technology student, and Prachi Jain, India’s Prime Minister’s research fellow, under the guidance of Gaikwad. The project has already gained attention from various industry stakeholders and environmentalists, who see it as a promising solution to the global plastic waste crisis. 

The students and their professor are exploring partnerships with F&B companies and packaging manufacturers to scale production and make this eco-friendly packaging option available to consumers. 

“Our next steps will prioritize ensuring food safety and quality. We are planning to apply for licensing our product from the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India. After that, we will go for scaling up the production to meet commercial demands and technology transfer to interested companies. A few companies are already interested in commercializing our edible cups,” concludes Gaikwad.

By Natalie Schwertheim

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