Practically Edible: Eco-friendly Dinnerware Made from Familiar Ingredients

Sugar, rice, and salt are classic pantry staples, but these foods might soon find a new home in your dish cabinet. New lines of eco-friendly dining ware and serving pieces combine biodegradability, function, and—in some cases—even a little bit of flavor!

The most exotic (and gorgeous!) of these are Himalayan pink salt plates. Mined from 500-million-year-old quarries in Pakistan, these attractive plates and serving slabs impart valuable minerals and subtle saltiness to fresh vegetables, soft cheeses, and other moist foods. By salting the food from below, the plates assure the seasoned part hits the tongue first, causing a unique flavor sensation.

The thicker serving slabs can withstand temperatures from 0 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. To impress your guests, heat these slowly on the stove then place on a trivet to sauté thin slices of meat of shrimp right on the dining table. In the summer, store the blocks in the freezer then use to serve scoops of ice cream. Normal use will dissolve a thin layer of salt each time, but with proper care, the plates should last several years.

The attractive slabs are even pretty enough to use as decoration! I keep mine lined up on a shelf near a window, where sunlight can sparkle right through them. When you’re done using your salt slabs in the kitchen, simply break and toss the small pieces into your bathwater for a relaxing mineral soak. (If only all recycling could feel this good!)

For something a little more suitable for everyday, a company called Grenware produces a full line of dinner plates and soup bowls made from rice hulls and coconut fiber. The elegantly curved plates are durable enough to be washed in your dishwasher, but will biodegrade in as little as four months when added to the compost pile.

If you’re expecting a crowd, you might want to pick up a package of disposable plates by Potatopak. The New Zealand-based company specializes in sustainable products made entirely of potato starch. Not only do these plates and utensils compost quickly, they’re also made without producing any toxic waste usually associated with Styrofoam production.

Also keep an eye out for products made from 100 percent sugar cane fiber or “bagasse,” which is a natural byproduct of the sugar refining process. Use them at your next party and then toss without guilt; bagasse plates will return to dirt long before you’re ready to invite that many people over again.