Polish design student Roza Janusz describes her work as “a process between making and growing.” Scoby–her graduation project at the School of Form in Poznan, Poland–is a perfect example of this philosophy. Scoby is a biological, fully edible, fully recyclable packaging solution that can be grown by farmers to wrap their products and bring them to market with zero waste.
Using biological tissue to package farm goods is not a new thing. Traditionally, farmers have used animal tissue to encapsulate and dry meat like chorizo or salami. In fact, Scoby looks very much like dried pig bladders or small intestines. However, Janusz’s material is a fully vegetarian wrapping that can be grown by any farmer with a simple chemical process that Roza has invented. She tells me that her production method involves adding sugars and other organic substances to kombucha–the fermented drink made with tea, yeast, and bacteria. She says that the average growth time per sheet is two weeks–at which point a membrane forms on the surface of the liquid. During fermentation, these biocellulose skins form in layers, one after the other, in a process similar to the way an onion grows in layers.
On its own, “Scoby has a light taste of kombucha,” she says over email. But if you cook it with its content, it will absorb the latter’s taste.
Since Scoby is the product of fermentation, it also has a long shelf life: “[It has a] low pH so it stays edible very long. My first material prototype made a half year ago is still edible.” That’s on its own, however. Its longevity changes based on what food or substance it’s wrapping. Roza believes that products with an acidic pH–like nuts–will even extend Scoby’s shelf life. Some of the products that Scoby can package are herbs, seeds, or even instant meals: Imagine some ingredients packed into a Scoby wrapper that you only have to put inside the oven or a pan to cook its own juices (another technique chefs have been using with dried pig bladder for years). She believes that cooking products inside their own packaging would be the ultimate zero-waste–and potentially very tasteful–farm-to-table solution.
Scoby still doesn’t have any market users yet, but after presenting the finished product this spring Roza says she actively working to turn it into a commercial solution.
Thanks to the global plastic scourge, we now regularly consume plastic molecules in the food we eat. Perhaps it’s time we drastically cut back on plastic-based wrapping and focus on alternatives. Roza believes that Scoby could help usher in a future in which farmers grow their own packaging. It may be humble, but it’s an effective step in the right direction.