Many, many concepts have been floated to attempt to improve the food-waste situation. Some are simple consumer-facing solutions, like convincing people to eat less-than-perfect produce, reducing the size of the average refrigerator, or encouraging people to shop more often and for less food at a time. Some are more complex: improving the shipping infrastructure or refrigerated compartments, genetically modifying plants to spoil slower, and now a new, luxurious-sounding proposal from Tufts University researchers: liquid silk.
Liquid silk, referred to by scientists as a “regenerated silk fibroin solution,” is basically what it sounds like. Actual silk, if you don’t spin it into a fiber for textiles, is an unusual sort of protein that can be dissolved in water to form a solution. That solution has been of a great deal of interest to scientists; it is remarkably strong for its weight, can be easily manipulated, and, interestingly enough, can be safely digested by humans with no ill effects.
The Tufts researchers wanted to see if a silk solution could be used to delay spoilage of fruits; they picked strawberries and bananas because these fruits spoil easily. When strawberries were dipped in this silk solution four times, and then compared with non-silken strawberries after a week, the researchers found that the silk fruit remained bright red, juicy, and fresh, while the control fruit had become dehydrated, soft, and probably unlikely to sell had they been at a supermarket. The silk, though the layer was thinner than the diameter of a human hair, had effectively blocked the environmental stressors that cause fruit to go bad, including carbon dioxide and oxygen.
On the other hand, the big question is: What does it taste like? From the study: “The thin, odorless silk coating did not affect fruit texture. Taste was not studied.”
Next time, please study the taste of silk-dipped strawberries, scientists. Good start, though.