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Modern Options: Edible and Compostable Dinnerware

written by: Olivia Emisar•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 7/25/2011

Edible dinnerware was born out of necessity in Medieval times and has evolved into an art form in modern days. The beauty of edible dinnerware is that once thrown into the garbage it won't take up space in the landfill for very long. Or you can add it to the compost heap to enrich the soil.

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    Brief History of Edible Dinnerware

    Medieval feasts included elaborately carved plates made of stale bread in which the main meats dripping with gravy or sauces were served. These plates where known as trenchers and nothing went to waste. After the feasts, the plates would have absorbed the gravy or sauces and remnants of the feast would be embedded into the soft dough. Trenchers were then given to the dogs or to poor beggars waiting outside for leftover crumbs. While medieval times are a perfect example of biodegradable and edible dinnerware, it is likely that bread has been used in this manner since its was first baked, as a simple alternative to costly dinnerware.

    Trenchers were very hard bread that was far from tasty. Some of it was stiff enough to be used as candle holders and serving platters, however, for special occasions, trenchers were made fresh for the feast and carved intricately to show off the importance of the guests. The more elaborate ones were saved for nobility and the plain ones used for lower-ranking members of the family and guests.

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    Biodegradable Plates

    Potatoes Potato Pak is a New Zealand based company that makes nice looking serving dishes, plates, bowls, flatware and trash bags from potato starch. The company also makes packaging and medical supplies. For $13.70 we get 25 biodegradable plates, which comes to around 0.50 a plate. The website has specials on a regular basis and the cost per plate is very reasonable and on-par with the fancy non-biodegradable fare found at most stores throughout the United States. The plates will be eaten by the worms in the compost pile to enrich the planting soil.

    Compostable dishes are not for home use only. The giant fast-food corporation, McDonald's, has been using utensils made from maize (corn), in their Austria, Germany and Sweden stores. Novamont is the supplier. The company continues to invest in research for developing biodegradable products to reduce the human footprint in the world and continue to provide sustainable options to the average consumer and industries.

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    The Incredible, Edible... Plate and Bowl

    taco salad We are all familiar with commercially produced and edible tostada plate and taco salad bowls. These are examples of sustainable growth, edible plates and biodegradable food products all in one. True Nature is one of the companies that makes edible bowls, along with El Paso and Taco Bell brand products.

    While we are on the subject of edible plates, let's not overlook the humble flour tortilla. They are used to make the burritos and soft tacos that are so common in Mexican dishes, but also suit themselves as an alternative to basic cold cut and cheese sandwiches and basic vegan wraps. Tortillas are also a tasty way to heat up last night's broiled chicken and hot vegetables for an easy lunch at work or a nice variation for school lunches.

    Tortillas and corn bowls now come in multigrain varieties, making for a healthier fare that adds flavor and versatility to many recipes.

    Oriental fare tortilla-like wraps are made of soy bean curd. While hardly considered a "plate" or "bowl", it is an edible meal that can easily be eaten without the use of silverware or chopsticks. Examples include fried won-tons, Korean dumplings and Filipino lumpias.

    The familiar sour dough clam chowder bowl found at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco is another tasty Fisherman's Wharf Bread Bowls morsel that falls into both categories of edible and biodegradable dinnerware. Bread bowls are more than tasty vessels for delicious clam chowder; they can be filled with homemade chili, stews and even tasty salads that have been drizzled with organic olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The variations can easily be adapted to envelop stir-fry with an oriental flavor, curries for Indian fare and used to serve spinach and other dips for family gatherings and parties.

    Tree Hugger reports on Japanese bowls and chopsticks made from dough of flour and salt. These dishes are edible but not suitable for wet foods, like the trenchers of Medieval times or bread bowls of today.

    A commonly used edible bowl in summer time can be found at ice cream shops; the waffle cone or bowl is a delicious treat that is both edible and biodegradable.

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    Himalayan Salt

    Himalayan Salt Himalayan salt plates and bowls are used in cooking and some of the parts end up in the the meal. The bowls can be heated on the stove to stir sauces and soups. The plates can be used over a grill or in the oven as planks to cook meats and fish. Some of the salt goes into the food and the plates and bowls will last for years. Not edible, but still useable, other forms include bowls made of Himalayan salt.

    These plates, slabs and blocks are expensive compared to disposable dinnerware or dishes made of tempered glass or stoneware, but where else can we find a plate that can be used to cook, serve and season all at once? Amazon and other online stores have variations of these slabs and plates. Grating Himalayan salt takes a lot of effort and smaller, and more affordable rocks to use in cooking can be found at health food stores such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.

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    An Easy Way to Reduce Environmental Impact

    It is not difficult to think outside the box and create a few meals a week that involve biodegradable and edible dinnerware. Eating the bowl and plate can be as nutrious as we want it to be, and the choices will help to reduce environmental waste. We just need a bit of creativity to make nutritionally sound meals that have very little impact on our environment.

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    Resources

    Tree Hugger: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/03/disposable-plates-biodegradable-edible-dishware.php

    Potato Pak: http://www.potatoplates.com/

    Novamont: http://www.novamont.com/default.asp?id=979

    Image Credits: Taco Salad; Jeff Kramer under CC BY 2.0; Bread Bowls by Broken Sphere under CC BY-SA 3.0; Potatoes by the USDA under public domain; Himalayan Salt Slab by KorbinD under CC BY-SA 3.0