Kitchen gadgets from heaven (and hell)

10 Sep 2015

Not all tech makes the kitchen a happy place. Photo via Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

Some kitchen gadgets help while others are a hindrance, trying to solve a problem no one ever had. From smart scales and intelligent ovens to food printers and egg makers, Elaine Burke weighs up the pros and cons.

For me, the kitchen is the perfect place for technology to flourish. Baking is a science, cooking is an artform, and any assistance in getting food cooked and prepared is more than welcome.

However, our desire to have hard-working kitchenware that does every job imaginable means inventions are cooked up to solve problems that no one really has. Yes, we would welcome a self-heating butter knife into our lives with open arms, but a vertical grill to cook a sweating cylinder of eggs is a step too far.

Drop Scale and Drop Kitchen app

Drop Scale is a Bluetooth-enabled kitchen scale and, with the Drop Kitchen app, you can find a recipe and prep it right on top of the scale in your mixing bowl, following step-by-step instructions.

It’s pricey (€100 from the Apple Store), but it’s a beautifully designed piece of kit and the free app’s interface looks just as good to match.

Drop Scale and Drop Kitchen app

The really clever thing about it, though, is that you can so easily adapt recipes on the fly. Say you only have so much flour left: just pop what you have into your mixing bowl and weigh it up on the scale. The app then calculates the rest of the ingredients to match what you have. It can also help you to substitute ingredients if you’re missing some elements.

The Drop Scale isn’t just for baking, either. There are recipes for burgers, huevos rancheros, dressed warm salad and more waiting to found in the app. And, this being the golden age of food porn, you can share your creations and recipes on your various social networks via the app.

Stirio automatic stirrer

As great as the Drop kit is, you still have to do a lot to get things done, like stirring ingredients.

But wait! You can have an automatic stirrer take care of that while you sit down to watch the Great British Bake Off.

There’s actually a range of automatic stirrers out there, would you believe. Take the Stirio from Unikia, for example.

Granted, its design is a bit industrial-looking but, if you want to be free from constantly stirring a pot, this motorised gizmo is the thing for it.

The latest version has a quieter motor (because, yes, some of these devices make a bit of a racket) and can adjust to fit any pot between 15 and 25 centimetres wide and 7.5 and 18 centimetres tall.

Everything but the motor can be detached and put in the dishwasher and there’s just the one-speed setting, so it won’t go wild and splash boiling-hot sauce about your kitchen.

Unikia Stirio

On a single charge you’ll get about an hour of stirring – which, if you’re prone to making jams and risottos, would probably be time you’d like back in your life. And it’s probably just those labour-intensive chefs who’ll be willing to shell out the €56.95 to pick up one of these from Arnotts.

Better yet, you could spend your money on an Egg Master, the kitchen solution to a problem no one has!

Egg Master – the world’s worst kitchen gadget

Eggs are great – you can have sunny-side-up fried eggs, lovely fluffy scrambled eggs, perfectly poached eggs… or a sick-looking tube of eggs one Egg Master reviewer described as a “hot sweating mess”.

The Egg Master does have suggestions for recipes that combine eggs with other foodstuffs, but I don’t think if you even paid some foodies the US$25 price tag from Amazon that they would try it.

I, however, have sacrificed my taste buds for science.

The Egg Master looks good as kitchen appliances go, but what comes out of it certainly does not. While the eggs are edible, the unappetising appearance and unholy smell are too much to overcome.

What’s more, you can cook much better eggs much faster using your good old pots and pans.

My verdict: two thumbs firmly down and a lingering smell we are fighting to remove from our office.

3D-printed food

Something that sounds as dodgy as the Egg Master but could prove to be far more appetising is a food printer.

The idea of 3D-printed food is being explored by organisations like NASA and the US Army, but it might also make it into home kitchens if Natural Machines’ Foodini is anything to go by.

Foodini is about the size of a microwave and is expected to be available to buy later this year.

It can combine five ingredients to make things like pizza and biscuits – but you do have to prep and sometimes cook the ingredients before you fill the capsules. (Apparently there are plans to improve on this with the next generation, but that’s years away.)

Foodini food 3D printer

Some experimental chefs have had fun making incredible structures with Foodini, but the more practical side of making food this way is that you can be very specific to people’s dietary requirements.

Recipes can be tweaked based on allergies, intolerances, calorie counts and taste. Imagine a restaurant with iPads to make orders from and one of these in the back kitchen? That’s the kind of future Natural Machines envisages.

3D printed food

3D printing food can let chefs’ imaginations run wild

For the prep, you could even just get a robot to do it. In January this year, researchers at the University of Maryland and the National ICT Australia (NICTA) claimed to have successfully created artificial intelligence that learned to cook from watching YouTube videos!

Pantelligent and June: smart kitchen appliances

Rather than have a robot in your kitchen, you could just make your appliances smarter, like Pantelligent or the June Intelligent Oven.

Pantelligent is another Kickstarter success story, now getting ready to ship to its early backers.

This frying pan is connected to a mobile app that monitors the cooking food so you don’t have to. Just tell it what you’re cooking and it will let you know when you should flip it and for how long you should cook it. I bet it makes better eggs than the Egg Master anyway!

The June Intelligent Oven is everything you want in a smart device: it cooks food, it has a touchscreen, cameras everywhere and, of course, a connected app.

June Intelligent Oven

June is equipped with food recognition technology, so it knows what you’re cooking, weighs it and can recommend a cooking process. The five-inch interactive screen on the front lets you decide how you want your food cooked (steak, medium), while cameras inside the oven monitor the cooking process.

The app then syncs your smartphone with June to tell you when it’s done, providing you with updates. You can even take pictures as you go, sharing the tempting prospect of a hot meal with friends, perhaps.

June’s not in stores just yet, but US customers can reserve one for spring 2016 at a pricey US$1,500. In the meantime, you’re likely to see elements like CPUs, cameras and sensors creeping into the latest kitchen appliances as our homes become more and more futuristic.

Self-heating butter knife

If I had to think of the most longed-for kitchen gadget, it’s got to be the self-heating butter knife.

Warburtons teased us with a prototype Toastie Knife a few years back and, now, the dream is real thanks to Kickstarter.

The SpreadTHAT! self-heating butter knife was brought to life with US$62,957 pledged in September last year.

SpreadTHAT! self-heating butter knife

Unlike the proposed Toastie Knife, this gizmo needs only the power of human touch and uses thermal conductive titanium to transmit heat from your hand to the blade of the knife. Just like that, you have a warm knife to cut through butter straight from the fridge. It could almost bring a tear to your eye.

Early backers will have received this beauty of a kitchen helper by now and you can now find them from homeware stockists such as the UK’s Auteur.

Main image of chefs in the kitchen by Tyler Olson via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic