How do you preserve fruits and vegetables after harvest? Generally, you need cold temperatures. But what if there were an alternative to refrigeration? That question inspired Santa Barbara-based Apeel Sciences to create Edipeel, a post-harvest protection product made with edible extracts from plants. Inhabitat spoke with CEO and founder James Rogers about the product, which forms a micro-climate around each piece of food so it lasts around double the amount of time it would untreated — at least.
Hunger continues to be a pressing problem, and as the population grows, humanity must figure out how to feed 10 billion people. This issue formed the basis of a podcast Rogers was listening to while driving through the Salinas Valley. He looked out the window at the greenery of the valley, dubbed the “Salad Bowl of the World,” and wondered how people could go hungry if we were growing so much food. Digging into the issue, he discovered it’s not so much about growing enough calories to feed the planet as it is about keeping what we do grow from perishing.
Rogers found out fruits and vegetables rot through water loss and oxidation. “As a materials scientist, immediately this rang a bell with how people solve this problem for steel,” he told Inhabitat. “Most people don’t think about it, but steel is highly perishable. It rusts. Metallurgists solved this problem in creating stainless steel, and the way that they did that was by adding additional elements, like chromium or nickel.”
Edipeel creates an invisible, edible barrier to keep oxygen out and water in. Apeel recombines edible oils from plants in blends tailored for different kinds of food; think citrus or avocados. The result is a powder that Apeel mixes with water and sprays on the surface of food. It dries into a thin added peel, creating a micro-climate for each piece of produce. “The result is that it can last two, three, four times longer, even without refrigeration,” said Rogers.
Worried about harmful chemicals on your food? So were Rogers’ friends. “They said, ‘Hey, sounds like a cool idea, bro, but we don’t want any chemicals,'” Rogers said. Although food is technically comprised of chemicals, some people don’t always think about it that way, so he wondered, “What if we could relegate ourselves only to using those materials that are found in high concentrations in the fruits and vegetables we eat every day to make formulations to use food to preserve food?” Apeel has been developing Edipeel for around six years now with that goal in mind.
“We’re not a large chemical manufacturing company saying ‘let’s manufacture a new chemical to solve this problem.’ We’re looking at it from this perspective of: how do we work with nature to solve this problem the right way — not the fast way, not the cheap way, not the way that sacrifices the long-term health of the planet, but how do we solve this with the tool set nature has provided us?” Rogers told Inhabitat.
The extracts for Edipeel can come from any vegetable or fruit. “We’re not looking for any weird botanical extract from some crazy flower in the Amazon,” Rogers said. “The materials we need are ubiquitous. If it grows above the surface of the earth, basically we can use it to create our formulations. The materials we’re using are all inert materials. They don’t have any action in and of themselves; they’re just structural. We recompose that structure on the outside of produce. ”
Since spoilage is so significant, the way Apeel prices Edipeel means it’s more expensive for retailers not to have it. According to Rogers, “If you’re a retailer and you’re throwing away eight percent of your avocados, we’re able to price our product such that by paying us, you’re still going to save enough money to pay us for the product.”
Edipeel is designated “Generally Recognized As Safe” by the Food and Drug Administration and Apeel has a product that can be used on organic produce.
“As soon as you see how it works, you know that this is going to be a thing in the world,” Rogers told Inhabitat. “Seeing it work, even at a small scale, it was like, ‘This is the future.’ It just feels like an eventuality.” This year, Apeel is gearing up to offer Edipeel to commercial partners. Rogers couldn’t say who those partners might be quite yet, but he did say they are premier retailers.
Images courtesy of Apeel