Water into Wine

Posted By: Selerant RSA

Palcohol to Retest Global Food Safety Regulatory Boundaries

As food technology progresses and the commercialization of R&D outcomes hit the market it is inevitable that the boundaries of our food safety systems and food regulatory frameworks will be tested. Of particular interest in this context is the recent development and market release of a powdered form of molecularly encapsulated alcohol marketed under the trade name Palcohol in the United States.

What is Palcohol?

Palcohol was developed by American company Lipsmark by product creator Mark Phillips and is primarily designed to be mixed with water to create alcoholic beverages for recreational purposes although according to the company it has numerous commercial, medical, aviation, manufacturing and food applications. Palcohol initially received federal approval by the American Tobacco and Alcohol Tax Trade Bureau (TTB) in March but has already been banned by 7 American states followed by the rescinding of the TTB’s approval. The current ban has been instituted primarily due to fears over its misuse, the potential to facilitate underage alcohol abuse and the use of inadequate informational and cautionary labeling.

Disingenuous innovation

Although at first glance the current Palcohol debacle may seem precipitated by the arrival of a legitimately innovative product, in actual fact powdered alcohol was first developed as far back as 1972 when a patent was filed by US firm General Foods Corporation. The science underpinning powdered alcohol is quite simplistic and relies on the property of synthetic carbohydrate molecules known as Cyclodextrins to absorb 60% of their own weight in alcohol and remain in solid state. In fact since its development in the early 70s powdered alcohol products have made sporadic appearances on a global stage most significantly in the U.S, Europe and to a lesser extent in other regions.

Palcohol: Blazing a Regulatory Trail 

In theory Palcohol poses no greater or lesser risk that alcohol in its conventional state and according to Palcohol’s Philips, “What Palcohol offers, because it's a powder, is portability and lightness," "It is a great convenience for the person involved in activities where weight and bulk is a factor....like hiking, backpacking, etc. One package weighs about an ounce and is small enough to fit into any pocket." The global significance of alcohol and its revered status as one of the few socially acceptable intoxicants inevitably means that any tinkering with its standard liquid based state was bound to incite widespread furor. With America already firmly stamping a seal of disapproval on Palcohol its fate hangs in the balance, although it is suggested that with a slight modification of the overall ingredients and the use of clearer labeling and precautionary statements the product will be ultimately issued with an approval. The utility and simplicity underpinning the concept of powdered alcohol means that we will certainly see this product hit international markets in the near future. It will be interesting to gauge the regulatory reaction of other global legislators and how regulatory frameworks will be shaped when this gamechanging substance makes a reappearance on a global stage albeit under a different trade name and marketed with renewed vigor.