By Sam Parker
Picture this: before sitting down to dinner, you open the fridge to grab a bottle of ketchup. You take your seat at the table, separate your hamburger patty from the bun, open the bottle, shake as hard as you can and nothing comes out. Next, you place the lid back on the bottle, shake again, take off the cap, but still nothing. After three more tries of this same routine, you resign and decide you would rather have mustard anyway.
We have all experienced similar moments of frustration. As a way to battle these stubborn, almost-empty condiment containers, a group of researchers at MIT invented LiquiGlide, a slippery coating made of food particles that ensures every last condiment drop makes it onto your plate.
Why Develop a Lubricant for Condiment Bottles?
MIT associate professor Kripa Varanasi and his research team of mechanical engineers and nano-technologists at the Varanasi Research Group spent two months working in an MIT lab to perfect this non-toxic, tasteless lubricant. Originally hoping to solve issues concerning clogs in oil and gas lines or the icing of windshields, the team decided to switch its focus to food bottle applications in order to save time during the marketing process. The market for bottling sauces is a $17 billion business, so the probability of success seemed promising, MIT doctoral candidate and LiquiGlide team member Dave Smith told Fast Company.
Though still interested in developing wider applications for LiquiGlide, the product currently serves as a Food and Drug Administration approved, spray-adhesive coating for the inside of ketchup, mayonnaise, honey and jam containers. It is made completely of food particles, and according to the product’s promotional website, users can scrape off the coating with a knife and eat it without doing any harm. Beyond glass and plastic, though, the sticky coating can cling to multiple surfaces including metal and ceramic. LiquiGlide can be applied inexpensively by adding it to the coating processes already used by bottling companies as well.
LiquiGlide Can Cut Food Waste and Need for Plastic Bottle Toppers
Though it may seem more useless than necessary, the team determined LiquiGlide can help cut down on food waste. According to research conducted by the LiquiGlide team, approximately 1 million pounds of food are thrown away each year worldwide. Included in this sum of waste are the tablespoons of ketchup left in the bottom of the bottle when you toss it in the trash. Additionally, many condiment manufacturers have adopted squeeze bottles to make getting out your mayonnaise easier. Large, plastic lids usually top these squeeze bottles, but if LiquiGlide was placed inside traditional glass bottles, squeeze caps could be eliminated and approximately 25,000 tons of petroleum-based plastics would be saved each year.
LiquiGlide has received positive feedback since its introduction, and the research team earned second place, out of 215 teams, in MIT’s $100,000 Entrepreneurship Competition on June 15. Though the group did not take home the grand prize, they secured the audience-choice award, an honor determined by the crowd rather than the judges.
As for the future of LiquiGlide, the team is discussing plans with some bottle companies, equipment makers and food producers, but no official arrangements have been made. Becoming incorporated and determining a company name must be checked off of the to-do list before this patented product can progress into the corporate world. As for its public access, LiquiGlide is not available for everyday consumers who are hoping to coat ketchup bottles of their own and it is not known if it will be.