Food & Wine

Most green and biodegradable cutlery, eat it with the meal

Updated: 09 Jan 2010
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An Indian entrepreneur manufactures delicious edible cutlery — forks, knives and spoons — that can all be eaten up post-meal!
Even as global warming turns up the heat on the world stage, entrepreneur Narayana Peesapaty, 44, may have found the perfect answer to the mountains of disposable plastic cutlery choking the world: he makes them edible!
In other words, after people have eaten their curry and rice, they can now chew and swallow the spoon!
The Hyderabad-based entrepreneur's company - B.K. Environmental Innovations Private Limited - manufactures eco-friendly forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks in delicious flavours of vanilla, strawberry and pineapple. And all can be gobbled up after the meal!

Eat it: These edible spoons are made from spinach, beetroot and carrot.


The outfit is part of the New Ventures Global initiative to encourage environment-friendly business ideas in developing countries. Peesapaty, a former scientist at the Institute for International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), is already supplying his product to a raft of hotels, sweet shops and organised retailers in the city.
Samples have also been sent to corporate caterers, schools and housewives. In fact, Pesapaty's products are the perfect answer to a housewife's prayer – no washing up to do after meals!
The amazing idea struck Narayana Peesapaty thousands of feet above the ground in 2004 - while he was being served packaged meals on a flight. What if he could make edible cutlery that didn't need to be junked after use? And that were also healthy and nutritious enough to eat?
"The idea was to give an option to people who didn’t want to use plastic," says Peesapaty.
It took the scientist another two years to give commercial shape to his idea.
"I began by checking out the suitability of various cereal flours - wheat, rice and sorghum (jowar) - as base for edible cutlery," he says. Finally, he zeroed in on sorghum. Jowar has traditionally been an important source of nutrients such as folic acid and fiber, yet the domestic consumption of this crop has recently decreased and been replaced by starch-laden rice," he says.
B.K. Innovations is thus helping to revitalize the popularity of jowar with consumers, especially since those with diabetes have shown an interest in consuming edible cutlery as a nutritious snack.
Vegetable pulp - spinach, beetroot and carrot - were used to add colour and nutritive value to the cutlery. Spinach gave it a green shade, beetroot red and carrots brought out a yellow hue. In 2006, the entrepreneur applied for a process patent for producing edible cutlery.
"Apart from the first-mover advantage, the flour combination, kneading process and mould designs are unique, creating substantial obstacles for this business," says Peesapaty.
The entrepreneur's entire production line - comprising blenders, slicers, dyes and an oven - had to be designed and calibrated to ensure that the spoons retained their hardness while not losing out on their taste and nutritive value. BK offers spoons in three flavours and has also expanded its production to edible sandwich wrappers and edible chopsticks.
Large-scale domestic buyers have already shown initial interest, and BK Environmental Innovations hopes to eventually enter the international market.
Requests from international sellers have come from various countries including Singapore, New Zealand, and Canada. With Japan and China’s growing demand for chopsticks and the decreasing availability of resources, an environmental movement has grown to search for better options. Narayana expects edible chopstick to be a popular alternative to disposable chopsticks.

Above: Narayana Peesapaty (with his daughter) wanted to give people an option to plastic spoons.
Peesapaty feels there’s a great future ahead for his edible chopsticks which will give stiff competition to the disposable ones. In fact, he aims to corner a portion of the global disposable chopsticks market, which sees sales of around 24 billion units per annum in Japan and 35 billion units in China.
However, the innovator's path has not been without challenges. When he wasn’t getting investors for his dream project, Peesapaty says he had to sell his flat for Rs 35 lakh (about US$ 100,000) three years ago. He then moved to a rented house with his wife and young daughter. In other words, of the Rs 50 lakh Peesapaty has invested in the venture so far, 70% of the funds have come from his own pocket.
Not that the businessman is new to such situations. In 2006, he resigned from his cushy job to concentrate on his ambitious venture. However, there was always a method to the entrepreneur’s madness.
According to him, plastic cutlery comprises a market worth Rs 10 billion per annum which is far larger than steel, glass or ceramic. Moreover, plastic cutlery — being disposable and non-biodegradable — causes enormous environmental degradation.
So Peesapaty pooled his own resources with some help from friends, and commercially launched his product in April 2008.
After two years of R&D and test sales, the scientist says he went commercial in April last year. He has packed off supplies to the UK, France and samples to the US, Canada, Dubai and Russia. Consumers in the US, Canada and Dubai have lapped up test samples picked up by some exporters, Peesapaty says.
Some sweet-shop owners in Hyderabad have turned the idea of edible spoons into a unique selling proposition to attract customers.
However, the inability to ramp up operations frustrates Peesapaty. He says his progress has been painstakingly slow due to infrastructure hurdles, non-availability of moulds and the lack of a well-oiled marketing machinery.
"I need to ramp up my production to 500,000 spoons a day before my venture can be considered commercially successful," he says. Therefore, to scale up business, he has fleshed out a franchisee model through which he will offer machinery and trained staff, while the marketing support will be expected of the local partner. The entrepreneur currently has an all-women team of 20 employees "to do my bit for women's empowerment".
As BK Innovations scales up production, Peesapaty hopes to work with local jowar farmers to help them find a market for this hardy crop. He hopes promoting jowar will generate revenue for farmers while also providing a viable substitute for water-intensive rice cultivation.
So what food for thought is Peesapaty next serving up? An edible plate that can be tweaked into a pizza and edible sandwich wrappers! Bon appetit!
Produce responsibly or perish


Peesapaty is not the first entrepreneur to manufacture edible and eco-friendly cutlery. Edible swizzle-sticks have been available in the United Kingdom for many years now, and some innovative Chinese-food vendors are known to serve soup in edible or biodegradable bowls in south Asia.
What's more, diners at Chef Homaro Cantu's Moto restaurant in Chicago order from the menu and can then gobble it up - it is made of Parmesan-flavoured rice paper, imprinted with edible soy ink!
Experts point out that more and more such out-of-the-box ideas will be needed in this century for businesses to survive.
A UK government-commissioned study, carried out by British treasury economist and former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern, has emphasized that environmental damage could shrink the world economy by 20%, at a cost of up to $ 7.046 trillion.
Another report, "Ecosystem Challenges and Business Implications", published by Earthwatch Institute (Europe), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and the World Resources Institute (WRI), says companies either have to alter their business models and operations or suffer major losses from the degradation of ecosystems on which their businesses depend.
SOURCE: The star online


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