I once ordered millet bread (jowar roti) for lunch, but got delayed eating it. When millet bread turns cold, it becomes tough in its texture. Not wanting to waste the food, I broke it into spatula-like pieces and scooped the dal and curry. Deliberating on this later, I reasoned that if a two-dimensional spatula could work, why not three-dimensional, properly shaped cutlery,” reminisces Narayana Peesapaty, the pioneer of edible cutlery in India and founder of Bakeys.
Enthused by this idea, he quickly sprang into action, used conventional cutlery in his kitchen as molds. Making dough with flour was not a problem; making a sheet out of millet flour was a different challenge. This is because it does not bind well, sticks to the surface, and breaks.
“I experimented with several types of flours mixed with millets, carefully recording the results of each trial. In some cases, it worked well, while in others it did not. Finally, I zeroed in on some combinations that sheeted well and where the shapes came out nicely when baked,” Peesapaty recalls.
Edible cutlery as an alternative to plastic and styrofoam cutlery has a niche market as of now. Allied Market Research pegged its market size at $24,860 million in 2018 and expects it to grow to $56,970 million by 2026, with a CAGR of 11.1 per cent between 2019 and 2026.
The market potential has expanded as more people are driven towards clean living in developed and developing markets. Growing concerns about using single-use products have also helped.
Vinay Balakrishnan, CEO and founder of Kerala-based Thooshan, has also started making edible cutlery using wheat bran for plates, rice powder and tapioca starch for straws and rice bran.
The brand name Thooshan is derived from a Malayalam word, Thooshanila, which means a tapered plantain leaf. Balakrishnan says, “The response has been extremely positive. We had the privilege of providing plates for serving the G20 delegates attending the recent G20 Sherpa Meet in Kumarakom, Kerala.”
Puneet Dutta, director of New Delhi-based Attaware, another edible cutlery company, is exploring export opportunities. He says, “In the Western world, there is a sharp increase in the demand for gluten-free food products, especially millets.”
Attaware, which has distributors in Canada and the UK, uses bajra, jowar, rice, corn and other grains to manufacture its gluten-free and vegan edible cutlery and cups. Dutta was inspired by a saint in Vrindavan when he saw him folding an Indian fried flatbread and pouring curry into it.
He experimented with raw materials and finally realised that jaggery (gud) can be used in its natural state as it has the power to hold any hot or cold liquid. “There is an economical, social, environmental, and health value to every piece of cutlery we manufacture,” he adds. As a replacement for plastic cutlery, edible cutlery is a boon not only fot the planet but also for the health of people.