What if your dinner plate has more dietary fibre than your meal? With 43 grams of fibre and 16 grams of protein, edible plates might just fill the gap in your diet. These wheat bran plates (roughly 11 inches in diameter) called “Thooshan”, manufactured by Aura Exim and sold by Vir Naturals Pvt Ltd, are the latest to enter the edible tableware space.
For those who want to pursue a sustainable lifestyle in India today, options are aplenty, from cloth bags and bamboo toothbrushes to chemical-free cosmetics. The next step is edible tableware that home-grown manufacturers have been pushing slowly yet surely. Though India has been slow to catch on, the change is sure to happen, says Vinayakumar B (Vinay), founder of Thooshan. “And for us, it isn’t purely business. The aim is to bring about a long-term change in the way people perceive plastic,” he adds.
India generates about 3.3 million metric tonnes of plastic annually, says a 2018-19 report by the Pollution Control Board; the average per capita consumption is eight grams per day. The pandemic is expected to worsen the statistic, with single-use masks and PPE kits adding to total waste generated.
“The idea is to create as many alternatives as possible so that single-use plastic can be eliminated in the long run,” adds Vinay, who left his job as a Life Insurance CEO at Mauritius to start this initiative. Launched a month ago, Thooshan has its factory in Angamaly and currently manufactures dinner plates that can be eaten or fed to cattle, pets or fish as organic manure. “We don’t tell people to eat it, but if they do, it is good for the body,” he adds. The plates are not flavoured yet. And the brand will soon introduce food containers, bowls, disposable cups, as well as cutlery.
Vinay spent a year and a half researching wheat bran and its viability in making edible tableware. He collaborated with scientists at the CSIR- National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, to develop the 100% biodegradable tableware. The project has been incubated at IIT Kanpur, Kerala Agricultural University and Indigram Labs.
The products will be sold through distributors in each district of Kerala, once the pandemic situation improves, followed by contract manufacturing across India. Vinay says he would identify dealers who do not sell plastic as a policy.
In 2018, a similar initiative was begun by former IBM employees Shaila Gurudutt and Lakshmi Bheemachar in Bengaluru. Their startup Gajamukha Foodslaunched an edible bowl and spoon under the brand Edible Pro, and today,has over 25 products, which include multi-purpose cutlery, soup spoons, tumblers and plates and bowls in sweet, salty and spicy flavours.
“When Shaila and I wanted to do something on our own, we wanted it to be environment-friendly,” says Lakshmi. They sought help from the Defence Food Research Laboratory before setting up the factory in Bengaluru.
The products are made from grains, millets, pulses, cereal and chocolate and the most popular flavours are chocolate, beetroot, spinach and carrot. Though the market in India is only catching up, Lakshmi and Shaila believe it is sure to gain a strong foothold over a period of time. “People are more aware now; we get quite a lot of enquiries,” says Lakshmi. The products can be ordered online, through the company’s website. It undertakes customised orders as well.
These edible dishes can hold very hot (boiling) and very cold (up to -40°C) food. They can be stored at room temperature in air-tight containers. Their shelf life ranges from six months to one year. “As you chew on your spoon, think of the water that is being conserved while avoiding the hassle of washing up,” says Lakshmi.
Both Vinay and Lakshmi stress on the need to encourage people to switch over to edible cutlery and dishes for public events, weddings and parties, which would help save the planet from tonnes of waste generated.
“Even a wooden spoon or fork is not as eco-friendly as you think it is. It could contain chemical coating, which is as harmful to the environment as it is to you,” says Nirja Brahmbhatt, HR and Marketing manager of Trishula India, which has been manufacturing edible cutlery in its factory in Vadodara since 2017. The Gujarat-based company is not selling in India currently, yet 95 % of its products are exported. Once the pandemic situation improves, it would re-start sale in India.
Started by engineer Kruvil Patel, Trishula India is exporting to over 30 countries. India being a price-conscious market, tends to shy away from buying edible tableware, a single item of which could range anywhere between ₹2.5 to ₹7 for cutlery and ₹5 to ₹18 for a dish or plate depending on flavour and size. Some of the flavours Trishula offers are vanilla, chocolate, black pepper, Italian mixed herb and peri peri. Though COVID-19 has made business difficult, it has also brought hygiene and safety to the forefront, which could work well for edible tableware in the near future, says Nirja. The company is planning to introduce straws and chopsticks too.
It all begins at the tea shop, says Prasanth Menon, who owns Radhakrisha Sweets in Thrissur, Kerala, which launched teacups made of biscuits in November, 2020. “Tea shop banter can lead to big changes. I started this as an experiment and was amazed at the initial buzz it created. People queued up to have tea in vanilla, strawberry and chocolate biscuit cups,” says Prasanth. However, gradually, the excitement began to wane as one biscuit tea is priced at ₹20, which Prasanth feels, may be perceived as premium. He brought in cups from Hyderabad initially, but now has his own unit in Coimbatore. “The biscuit is made of wheat and is hard-baked. The cups are only mildly sweet,” he says. Prasanth’s aim is to be able to reduce the price of the cup so that more people would use it.
RS Pathy Naturo, in Madurai, launched a tea kiosk in the city in 2020, which served tea in flavoured wafer cups. “We tried it as a eco-friendly value-added product to our kiosk, but it came out very well,” says Vivek Sabapathy, owner of the company. He started a manufacturing unit and sells it to different parts of the country. The company is also selling it as a pack of 10 cups, which come with an expiry date. They are available in supermarkets across Madurai,and can hold hot beverages for at least 15 minutes before they turn soggy, he says, adding, “The idea is to promote a sustainable concept of tea time at home.”
Change, say the manufacturers in one voice, will surely come. One edible spoon at a time.