Nov 30, 2011Science and Technology
Inspiration for chefs and scientists comes from algae

The concept of “edible pearls” has been developed over the last decade using sodium alginate, a seaweed derivative. Predominantly used for culinary applications, edible pearls can essentially contain any liquid in a capsule form.  What’s new is how researchers can combine this design with three-dimensional (3D) technology to look closer at molecular structures.  Crossing culinary science to package molecules and study them in a 3D environment is an innovation of many kinds.


Edible pearls are a common name used in the culinary world, and the science of making these liquid beads is also fairly common.  By combining a given liquid with an algae-based compound, the liquid forms a shell when dropped in a calcium bath containing detergent.  Without the detergent, the barrier still forms but it is not sustainable, so the detergent is a key component in the capsule-like formation of a liquid droplet. 


Master chefs who wanted to mix flavor bursts into their culinary creations often use edible beads like these to do just that.  When the French scientist, Nicholas Bremond was working with a chef on a similar food-science project, Bremond took the liquid bead concept beyond the world of cookery.  Bremond has a background in chemistry and physics so naturally, he understood the molecular structure and its potential application in science. 


Certainly, any new breakthroughs in oncology research are welcome.  And that’s exactly what Bremond intended.  He didn’t create a new concept because sodium algenate has been around for a while now.  What Bremond did was innovate.  He innovated a new use for an existing product, and with the new use came an indication for medical studies with cancer cells.  Bremond’s level of innovation went one step further when he combined an ability to isolate cancer cells in a liquid drop with a 3D visualization process. 


These liquid beads have a physical ability to prevent mixing with other liquids.  What other uses can we take from this concept?  Perhaps we can study greenhouse gas interactions for climate change studies, or create super-concentrated vitamins for maximal potency and effectiveness on our health.  Being able to package any liquid suggests a nearly limitless list of possibilities. 


What’s truly newsworthy is the ability of this scientist to find inspiration in an unlikely place.  Who else will be inspired by this and come up with a new use for sodium alginate encapsulation?  How about the environmentalist who sees an application for edible pearls in an algae-based filtration system?  If we’re talking about algae, we’re talking about a living organism that is highly sensitive to light.  How does light exposure affect the permeability of the algae-based shell? 


Let this serve as an example of how innovation happens.  Let this inspire you to recycle existing ideas in light of new technology.  Bremond’s research will be vastly applicable to scientists across the globe, and his inspiration cam from a chef.  Unlikely, yes.  Innovative?  Definitely. 

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