Jakarta food and beverages retailer Ong Tek Tjan sells ice cream in cups his customers can eat afterward, instead of throwing away – they are made from seaweed and taste like jelly, in flavors from peppermint to green tea.
Indonesian start-up Evoware, which makes the cups, as well as other containers, from farmed seaweed free of chemicals, is relying on its biodegradable alternative to plastic packaging to reduce contamination of the environment.
“I too support this environment-friendly cause,” said vendor Ong, who uses Evoware’s Ello Jello container to serve ice cream, though he feels consumers may take time to adapt to the product that is pricier than current options.
Indonesia, which has some of the world’s filthiest rivers and once-pristine beaches littered with plastic waste, has joined a United Nations-led clean-up drive after being rated the second-biggest plastic marine polluter, behind China.
Evoware co-founder David Christian said the idea of seaweed-based edible packaging was spurred by his desire to fight an explosion in plastic waste over the last few years in his home city of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital of 10 million people.
From the first product it developed, the seaweed-based jelly cup, Evoware is expanding into other types of packaging, such as dissolvable sachets for coffee or seasonings.
Indonesia produces 10 million tonnes of seaweed each year and targets 19 million tonnes by 2020, said Christian. But Evoware’s products, now made by hand, still have some way to go before they can compete with plastic on price.
The edible seaweed Ello Jello cone can be up to five times more expensive than ordinary crepe cones, according to Ong. And it uses wrappings of plastic and paper to preserve its texture. Seaweed is classified as algae, and there are more than 30 commonly eaten varieties categorized by color: brown, red or green. Each is unique in its shape, taste, and texture, but all types contain a rich store of essential minerals that includes calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vanadium and zinc. Sea vegetables also provide a potent array of vitamins, including B vitamins riboflavin and pantothenic acid; vitamins A and E; and vitamin C, which aids iron absorption. A single serving of seaweed contains almost one-fifth of the daily recommended value of vitamin K.
The nutrients in sea vegetables make them useful for maintaining good health and for fighting disease. Seaweed is rich in phytonutrients, including sulfated polysaccharides that are known to have significant anti-inflammatory, antiviral and cardiovascular benefits. A 2011 review of 100 studies on the benefits of seaweed published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reported that seaweed may be a better source of bioactive peptides than milk products, and it validated the usefulness of seaweed for lowering blood pressure and promoting heart health. Research has shown that eating seaweed may help protect against certain cancers, too. The folic acid in seaweed is thought to lower the risk for colon cancer, and its cholesterol-lowering properties may reduce the risk of estrogen-related cancers, such as breast cancer.