Keeping foods from slopping together

November 10, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service YDB

It could be the biggest breakthrough in the jelly sandwich since the invention of peanut butter. Or maybe not. It's still early.

Either way, scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have found a way to keep jelly in sandwiches from soaking the bread -- a problem that generations of schoolchildren have deemed "gross."

Scientists have created a thin edible wrap, or film, that can go inside a jelly sandwich, and act as a barrier to keep the bread from getting soggy from the jelly. The wrap can be eaten along with the sandwich.

As with many such breakthroughs, the researchers would prefer to talk about the hard science and leave the extravagant marketing claims to others.

"This is just at an experimental stage, to determine the water-barrier properties of the film," said Dominic W. S. Wong, a USDA researcher based in Albany, Calif. But the tests are all going well, and even Mr. Wong has been surprised at the early reaction.

"We've received quite a number of phone calls from food companies. They are really interested in this type of film."

It was the challenge of finding new ways to preserve food, and improving existing food products, that motivated USDA scientists. The jelly sandwich breakthrough is just a happy spinoff.

Still, the transparent, tasteless edible film isn't quite ready for the supermarket. It is made from two ingredients, one of which -- a derivative of lobster and crab shells -- isn't yet approved for human consumption in this country.

But someday, who knows? An edible film product could keep ingredients from mingling in a variety of processed foods. If the day of the soggy jelly sandwich is ending, can the soggy frozen pizza crust be far behind?

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