Despite the weather taunting us, spring is technically on its way here in southern Ontario. With it, comes the promise of delicious local fruits and veggies to wake up our hibernating tastebuds. I’ve always loved waiting for my faves to come into season — asparagus makes me think of Victoria Day, and McIntosh apples of Thanksgiving pies!
But my culinary calendar may get reorganized if James Rogers has his way. The Materials PhD has invented an organic spray coating for food items, that purports to increase their shelf life three times over. Rogers was inspired by his original work on an industrial spray that when dry, acted as a solar panel. Already attuned to sustainability through that project, he was further galvanized by the food waste he witnessed as fall out of seasonality: “The problem is you’re either in season and have more than you know what to do with, or you have nothing.”
So Rogers created Apeel Industries (of which he is now CEO), which is revolutionizing food preservation technologies, starting with his plant lipid spray. Ryan Bradley at the Guardian has the fascinating science:
“The spray can be made of the lipids from any plant – much of the source crop for their ingredients changes throughout the year, and is simply the excess or discarded produce from farms and vineyards – but it has to be molecularly reconstituted to act more or less exactly like the specific fruit on which it is sprayed.
We arrive at yet another lab, this one home to the material sciences team – the beating heart of the Apeel operation. Here, they use liquid gases to separate specific molecules from the lipid slurry, then reconfigure those molecules into a variety of combinations, essentially highly educated hunches as to what a specific fruit or vegetable’s skin might be like. If this seems like a lot of tedious guesswork, it is. The research and development for Apeel’s first product, a coating for avocados, took eight years.”
While Apeel has rivals in this particular niche, some with more complementary products, and others with direct competitors, Apeel has the most funding, mostly through major venture capitalist firms that share its Silicon Valley neighbourhood. It’ll be interesting to see how this competition shakes out — and how these sea changes to the industry reverberate up and down the supply chain. If it means having a fresh clementine in July… cognitive dissonance aside, I might be willing to try it!