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Published: 18 May 2016

Food & Materials: New Edible Forms

From edible leathers and digestible scents to fossilised fruit and water cakes, new culinary offerings push structural and creative limits, providing cross-category inspiration for colour, material and product development. 

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Rainbow Drop water cake
Summary
Culinary Illusions

Concealed beneath unusual edible surfaces – often evoking natural elements – traditional foodstuffs become unrecognisable or disguised objects. These texturised coatings provide tromp l’oeil effects, while offering strong sensorial contrast.

Transparent Poise

Food is elevated to an art form through striking framing and encasing techniques. Transparency is a key attribute, revealing ingredients and textures to varying degrees of visibility.

Process + Precision
Sophisticated manufacturing processes, such as precision cutting and moulding, inspire process-driven techniques that enable the creation of new and delicate edible forms. Inedible products, such as perfume and nail polish, become edible foodstuffs. 
Sensorial Textures
Experimental foods become vehicles for delivering heightened sensory experiences. Here, tactility becomes the star of the show, impacting mouth-feel and taste-driven explorations. 

Culinary Illusions

Playing with perception and subverting conventional visual cues, food is made to mimic stone, earth, precious geodes and ceramics through texturised coatings. Flavour and mouth-feel are exaggerated through tactile contrasts. For earlier explorations into ‘optical duplicity’, see New Food Styling. For colour’s impact on taste, see Food & Colour: Visualising Flavour.

  • Elemental Edibles: Italian food design studio Arabeschi di Latte hosted an interactive event in Milan to celebrate the collaboration between British designer Tom Dixon and UK engineered quartz-stone specialists Caesarstone. Dixon designed four kitchens based on the four elements – Fire, Earth, Water and Air – using Caeserstone as the primary material. The installation featured foodstuffs that also evoked the elements: candy floss for Air, planted herbs and caraway seeded bread for Earth, seared and charred food for Fire and steamed and frozen edibles for Water.
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The Restaurant by Caesarstone x Tom Dixon
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The Restaurant by Caesarstone x Tom Dixon
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The Restaurant by Caesarstone x Tom Dixon
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The Restaurant by Caesarstone x Tom Dixon
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The Restaurant by Caesarstone x Tom Dixon
  • Clay Casings: Spanish chef Andoni Luiz Aduriz explores the sensory nature of food at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant Mugaritz in Spain. His River Stone starter comprises a stone-like edible clay coating wrapped around a fluffy potato. The clay helps to retain the potato’s moisture levels, which are further amplified against its crunchiness. 

    Also conceived using edible white china clay, Fragrant Apples is a dessert served at Mugaritz with a powdery, flocked coating incorporating ground cardamom. The coated apples are vaccum packed for two hours to allow the flavours to intensify before each fruit is given a final dusting of clay. Ultimately, the familiar silhouette of the apple is still recognisable, yet its colourless, dry exterior forms a strong textural contrast to its crisp and juicy interior.
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Mugaritz Edible River Stones
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Mugaritz Edible River Stones
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Mugaritz Edible River Stones
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Mugaritz Fragrant Apples
  • Sugared Quartz: In January 2016, Colorado-based boutique wedding planner First Look Events commissioned Denver-based Intricate Icing Cake Designs to construct an ‘amethyst geode’ cake to launch its business. Strikingly realistic, yet entirely edible, the amethyst was crafted using granulated sugar, rock candy, gold leaf and multicoloured modelling chocolate. The fractal qualities of the crystallised sugar cleverly mimic that of a precious geode; the dense purple centre creating a captivating bleed of colour in this strikingly opulent confection. For more on trends in the bakery realm, see Bakery’s New Wave.
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Purple Geode Wedding Cake
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Purple Geode Wedding Cake

Transparent Poise

Casting techniques present foodstuffs in transparent vitrine-like displays as ingredients are objectified and preserved using edible resin, gelatine and solidified water. The results are more art than food, incorporating a strong sense of play. For more on the intimate relationship between food and art, see Feasting on Art.

  • Fruit Fossils: Brazilian artist Monica Piloni has created a series of skeletal fruit specimens showcased within transparent cuboids. The halved figs, oranges, papayas and peaches house ribbed fish-bone structures within their flesh, giving them an unlikely human-like dimension. Pushing the boundaries of edible aesthetics, the fusion of familiar yet unrelated elements presented in museum-like display cases delivers an unsettling feel.
  • Culinary Casting: São Paulo-based restaurant D.O.M., headed up by Brazilian chef Alex Atala, seeks to revolutionise Brazilian flavours by using natural resources and unconventional native ingredients. One of its signature dishes is Banana, Lemon and Priprioca Ravioli – composed using gelatine, and topped with créme patissiére and a drizzle of caramel made with priprioca (a fragrant Amazonian root). The precisely cut gelatine creates a static petri-dish-like presentation, mixing science cues with high-end opulence.
  • Wobbly Water: A trademark dessert of Japanese food company Kinseiken Seika Company, Japanese water cake is a delicate, ephemeral dessert which must be consumed within 30 minutes before it becomes a sweet pool of water. Based on a similar recipe for shingen mochi rice cakes, the transparent, glass-like sphere is made from solidified and sweetened spring water from the Southern Japanese Alps. Its smooth, jelly-like consistency delivers a melt-in-the-mouth experience. The treat is often served with a dusting of rich kinako powder (roasted soybean flour) and brown sugar syrup.

    Bringing the taste sensation to US audiences, New York-based food start-up Raindrop Cake has now launched at Brooklyn’s weekly Smorgasburg food market.
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Monica Piloni skeletal food art
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Monica Piloni skeletal food art
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Alex Atala Banana, Lemon, and Priprioca Ravioli
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Rainbow Drop water cake
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Rainbow Drop water cake
  • Gastronomic Games: An older, but fitting example, Dutch designer Leonie Anholts created a set of edible transparent dominoes, which help individuals to curate recipes based on the outcome of the game. Cast in edible resin, each domino tile enshrines a food ingredient, including herbs and spices. Participants are encouraged to play the dominoes in a traditional manner, with the last tile won forming the final ingredient in the winner’s selection. Ingredient combinations are then presented as recipes in an accompanying recipe book.
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Leonie Anholts Anatomy of a Recipe
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Leonie Anholts Anatomy of a Recipe
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Leonie Anholts Anatomy of a Recipe
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Leonie Anholts Anatomy of a Recipe

Transformative Edibles

Precision cutting and sophisticated moulding techniques are used to reinvent and upgrade familiar ingredients, creating evolved and experience-rich edibles. Chocolate proves to be a highly suitable material, capable of delivering precision and creativity in equal doses. For wider trends in the chocolate realm, see Creative Confections.

Meanwhile, inedible products – such as scent and nail polish – are being presented in novel edible formats, creating surprise and delight for consumers and earmarking how brands can extend their reach beyond their core competencies in fun and compelling ways. This idea is further explored in Brand Stretch.

  • Moulded Facets: French designer Pierre Tachon created a faceted chocolate hen for Easter 2016 as part of his continued collaboration with French chocolate company Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse. Inspired by the cutting and shaping of precious materials for jewellery, the geometric form is moulded from dark chocolate and houses almond praline eggs within its shell. Highly precise moulding techniques bring an exquisite sharpness to the chocolate. The confection was available for purchase in March and April at the high-end Bulgari hotel in London.

Chocolate, like diamond, is a very noble material, which can be shaped in the same way as a precious stone.

Pierre Tachon, designer
  • Flavour FlasksJapanese design studio Nendo has created a flavour mixology kit called Chocolamixture, which enables consumers to cherry-pick their own confectionery fillings – such as popping candy, cocoa puffs, dried fruit and sugared hearts – and combine them in chocolate flasks. The flasks’ cork-coloured lids are made of fumigated white chocolate. The product highlights the continued appeal of pick-and-mix product selections as well as the ‘commercial connoisseurship’ trend identified in our Look Ahead 2016: Food, Beverage & Hospitality.
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Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse x PierreTachon Cocotte
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Nendo Chocolamixture
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Nendo Chocolamixture
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Nendo Chocolamixture
  • Edible Beauty: Danish chef, food writer and photographer Kille Enna has conceived a range of handcrafted, drinkable perfumes called The Taste of a Scent, crafted from organic flower extracts, roots, herbs, seeds and bark. Designed to be enjoyed after a meal, or as a ‘natural cocktail’ at any time of the day, the elixirs are 'puffed' into a drinking glass, inhaled, and then combined with still spring water to create a refreshing drink. Aromas include Green Cardamom & Lavender and Damask Rose & Heather. For more, see Kille Enna Creates Edible Scents.

    Meanwhile, KFC Hong Kong has launched limited-edition edible nail polishes based on its signature fried chicken flavours. Taking KFC’s ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ tagline literally, the polishes come in Original and Hot & Spicy flavours, and can be nibbled on once applied to the nails. See KFC Launches Edible Nail Polish for further details.
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Kille Enna Edible Fragrance
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KFC edible nail polish

Sensorial Texture

The visual and sensory appeal of texture in sweet and savoury food reaches new heights thanks to 3D printing and dehydrating, freezing and stamping processes. These technique-driven creations are defined by the tools that make them, resulting in exquisite, artisan and gift-worthy edible treats.

  • Ketchup Leather: Argentinian chef Ernesto Uchimura, based at LA restaurant Plan Check, has created ketchup ‘leather’ in a quest to eliminate sogginess caused by tomato sauce on burger buns. The product is created by pouring ketchup onto a lined baking sheet and dehydrating it in the oven to create a semi-flexible sheet, which is then cut into squares.
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Ketchup Leather
  • Texture Palette: Also created by Nendo, Chocolatexture is designed to enrich the tasting experience of chocolate through a series of detailed moulded textures. Stripes, dots, zigzags, checkered and wave-like patterns adorn the 12 surfaces of the chocolate, with the intent of creating a differing sensorial mouth-feel and taste experience for each decadent morsel.
  • Surface Treatment: Copenhagen-based restaurant Leckerbaer creates gourmet cookies based on traditional recipes. With detailed stamped, piped and scored surface textures, the mouth-watering selection uses a tight and considered colour palette delivered through carefully selected ingredients such as vanilla, caramel, marmalade and cream.
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Nendo Chocolatexturebar
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Nendo Chocolatexturebar
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Leckerbaer Cookies
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Leckerbaer Cookies
  • Printed Texture: LA-based chef Mei Lin joins the 3D-printed food revolution with her passion fruit flower dessert. The delicate and intricate sugary creation was produced using a ChefJet Pro 3D printer and encases a sweet passion fruit curd, which is exposed when the outer shell is shattered.
  • Fresh Food PrintingCatalan chef Paco Perez, owner of five Michelin stars, has experimented with the Foodini 3D food printer (first covered in New Food Aesthetic) to use fresh food as a new print material. His signature Sea Coral dish is printed using seafood puree – incorporating caviar, sea urchin and carrot foam – to create an intricate coral design base. Featuring an impressive level of intricacy, this dish marries the aesthetic prowess of 3D printing with fresh food to bring a healthier and less manufactured feel to this advancing technology.
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Mei Lin 3D printed passion fruit flower
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Mei Lin 3D printed passion fruit flower

As people see it coming into restaurants and start becoming familiar with 3D-printed food and knowing that it's made with fresh, real ingredients, that's when the mind-change starts to happen.

Lynette Kucsma, co-founder, Natural Machines

For more on unexpected and unconventional ingredients, see Extreme Ingredients.

Future Insights
new archetypes change food rituals

A reinvented culinary archetype, ketchup leather is one example of how a traditional sauce can be transformed into a semi-solid state while delivering the same level of flavour. How could other traditional products be reset to offer new modes of consumption?

collaborative creations still win hearts

Involve the consumer by allowing them to play their part in creating their own tasting experiences. Carefully consider the elements within your kit to enable myriad opportunities for creativity.

point towards process

Continue to seek inspiration from the wider product manufacturing landscape and consider how this can be translated for the food industry. As seen in the Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse example, jewellery-making techniques provide a novel and strikingly beautiful approach to chocolate design.

wider material applications

The power of tactile engagement should not be underestimated. Cultivate a holistic and thoughtful palette of materials, which can be applied to product, branding, packaging and even physical settings.  

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