I Survived Eating Edible Plates for a Day

The term "clean plates" has been taken to a whole new level.

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Oct 5 2016, 7:00pm

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All photos by Emil Vinther.

If you walk around all day dreaming about a future dominated by flying cars, interior designers that are a little too inspired by H.R. Giger, and young people planet-hopping during their gap year, then you can stop doing that right now. Because I have seen the future. I have even tasted it.

Edible furniture, edible hotels and—perhaps the most useful of the bunch—edible tableware may sound a little like sci-fi, but it's not.

The latest take on an edible plate is the brainchild of Polish wheat farmer and miller, Jerzy Wysocki, decided to figure out a way to exploit the excess wheat bran he found himself in possession of every time he had milled his wheat over ten years ago.

By sheer coincidence, Wysocki discovered that if he mixed wheat bran with water, heated and pressurized it, something happened: The bran turned into a light, sturdy organic material. Wysocki almost instantly saw that there was potential in the flat wheat. So he built a machine on his farm and began producing biodegradable (and edible), disposable tableware which he markets under the name Biotrem.

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Apart from the obvious environmental benefits as an alternative to the use of plastic—the plates were the "official festival plate" at this years Oya Festival in Norway—the edibility makes it possible that disposable tableware in the future will be able to become an integrated part of the meal. And the fact that the Polish bran plates' rustic, grain-brown appearance make them look like a Nordic food stylist's wet dream only make them more appetizing.

All that, off course, had to be put to the test, so for a whole day I decided to only eat meals in which the bran-plate was integrated.

Perhaps the most obvious opportunity to do this was during breakfast. Wheat bran smells healthy and rich in fibers,I tore the plate into pieces—approximately half by half inches—and bathed them in cold milk, as if they were nothing but normal bran flakes.

The wheat flavor of the plate cereal transported me back in time, to a point in my childhood where I woke up to an empty pack of Cocoa Krispies, and my only alternative was my mom's bran flakes. The only clear difference now was that my plate-flakes had the texture of cork and thus provided me with a solid meal to kickstart my day.

OK, back to the plate.

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Earlier this year at the Danish festival Stella Polaris, chef Trung Tien Do from The Average Food Truck served his food on the edible plates. As an experiment beforehand, he also tried to fuse the plate with the food.

Trung considered using the plates to make a sort of pizza or pie, but the dry structure makes the plate hard to put away. To bypass that problem, he decided to try and moisten it, but the result still left much to be desired.

Inspired by his attempt, I decided to have a go with a delicious homemade plate-pizza. I decided on a classic pepperoni version and a more daring Mexican-inspired combo with chilies and slices of chicken. I smeared the plates with a combination of tomato paste and water in order to soften up the stodgy bran, covered them in a generous layer of cheese, and finished them off with my toppings of choice.

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After 25 minutes in the oven at 300° F, the result wasn't too bad. The taste resembled the sort of frozen pizza you buy from the supermarket, but the major difference was that the plate-pizza actually felt healthy. Like a very thin, stone-oven baked pizza but equipped with the most extreme wholemeal crust you can possibly imagine. I understood fully what Trung had meant, when he told me that the plates were hard to put away. The plate-pizza felt like a brick when it reached my stomach.

Trung decided on letting the plate replace the bread he usually serves. He came up with two dishes of meatballs served with barley-risotto, tomato sauce and Parmesan; one vegetarian and one meat, served slightly more liquid than normal, in order to make the plate easier to devour.

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According to Trung, the plate is not ready to replace bread entirely, since it's "too dry and leaves a little to be desired when it comes to flavor. But, if it was possible to make it even thinner, while maintaining the sturdiness of the plates, it would help a lot. Then you could add flavor—salt and pepper for example—and you could use different grains, like rye, and make it taste like rye bread."

It was time for dinner. Water would have to be the key ingredient, I thought. The less robust the plate, the easier it would be to eat.

I put a plate in the microwave oven alongside a glass of water, hoping that the evaporating water would soften the bran. After four minutes of microwave bombardment, the plate began to blacken, and to avoid a fire disaster, I gave up on my attempt to make the plate bend. I split it in two down the middle and instead created a Tex-Mex inspired plate-taco shell.

The plate taco was a dry encounter, and by this point the combination of plate-flakes and plate-pizza had already left me rather full and short of breath. I made do with the content of the bran-shell and reconciled on the notion that at least I had tried.

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And that's the thing: The dry character of the plate is what makes it both robust and hard to consume. And it takes quite a large amount of water to make the plate fall apart. If the liquid is boiling hot, it will become so porous after about 30 minutes, that it will lose its capacity as plate.

According to Martin Lehrmann from Eat a Plate, which sells the plates in Denmark, work is currently being done in order to make the plate more water resistant. If you put the bran under even more pressure, the fibers will begin to even out, and liquids will have a harder time gathering in the texture of the plate. But for now, as long as the food being served isn't too fluid, the plate won't collapse. Hot porridge, for example, is no problem.

The edible plate might not actually be that edible, but that doesn't change the fact that biodegradable material is a welcome alternative to plastic, styrofoam, and cardboard. A pair of plastic plates here and there, from a children's birthday or a summer festival, might seem like a drop in the ocean, but if we, as estimated, will be dropping 17.5 million tons of plastic into the world's oceans by 2025, we might as well start doing something about that by changing the way our burritos and birthday cakes are served.

By now, most of us have come to the realize, and accept, that the future probably will be more about sorting and recycling our garbage and packaging-free supermarkets and green energy rather than flying cars.

But if we will be able to smack a slice of cheese, a slice of bacon, and some lettuce on a plate in the future, can we call it a BLT? Then that will be quite the consolation prize.