How Things Work: Intelligent Cutlery

It’s happened to everybody: putting too much salt in a bowl of soup, too much sugar in a glass of tea, or too much vinegar in a homemade salad dressing. Repeated taste tests are required to reach the perfect ratio of one ingredient to another — or are they?
Connie Cheng and Leonardo Bonanni, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have invented what they call an intelligent spoon to help solve this problem.

The spoon is intended to help improve the taste of food, especially when made by people with less-than-stellar cooking skills. While the spoon is not able to rescue a doomed recipe, it can make sure that the levels of spices and acids are ideal.
Tech-savvy cooks will be able to check the vitals of their dishes before serving them to unwitting dinner guests.

Beyond this superficial level, the intelligent spoon can have positive health benefits. Because it detects things like the levels of salt and sugar, health-conscious eaters can watch what they eat in a much more sophisticated way. This can help with diabetes patients, who need to cut back on sugar, and eaters with high blood pressure, who need to watch their salt intake.

Cheng and Bonanni invented the intelligent spoon in 2005 in an effort to bring computing to the kitchen. The spoon has a number of electrical connections and sensors that help it perform its function. In this stage of its development, the spoon must be plugged into a wired connection with a computer in order to give the cook its readouts.
The spoon works by using sensors to detect various characteristics of the substance it is testing. One sensor detects the temperature of the substance, letting the cook know whether the food is too hot.

While this may be accomplished by the use of a thermometer, a multi-tasking device like the intelligent spoon allows the cook to check other important aspects of the food.
The pH sensor checks the acidity of the substance, suggesting additions of either acid or sugar to neutralize it and improve the flavor.

The two salinity sensors, located on either side of the tip of the spoon, test the amount of salt, allowing the cook to see whether more salt should be added or whether sugar or another item should be added to make the dish less salty.

The viscosity sensor tests the thickness of the substance, which allows the cook to tell whether to add more liquid.

The intelligent spoon is designed primarily as a serving or mixing spoon, and is not particularly useful for individual diners. Another inventor, though, has created intelligent utensils that can provide valuable nutritional information for diners.

Designer Alex Schulz has come up with a new concept, called IC3. IC3 is a set of intelligent cutlery that may be useful to a wide variety of people.

Unlike the intelligent spoon invented by MIT researchers, IC3 focuses more on diet and nutrition than on taste.

The IC3 cutlery has three interchangeable ends that attach to the computerized handle: a fork, a knife, and a spoon. Each utensil serves a different function for the diner.
The fork gathers the most information and analyzes the nutritional content of the diner’s food, including fat, protein, and sugar. The information is stored in the handle of the utensil until it is uploaded to a computer.

The spoon weighs the food that is on it, and the device keeps track of the total weight of the food eaten. When the data is uploaded, it provides statistical information for a whole meal rather than just the most recent bites.

The knife acts as a thermometer, taking the food’s temperature to determine whether it is safe to eat.

Once the meal is over, the diner can get a full report about the food that he or she has just eaten. This requires a computer, like MIT’s intelligent spoon, but because the IC3 cutlery focuses more on giving a report after the food has been eaten, it can be done after a meal instead of during the cooking process.

The information provided in the report is useful to anyone who needs to watch what they eat, including people who diet and those with health concerns. In particular, the analysis of sugar content is useful to diners with diabetes, who need to keep track of their sugar levels.

As far as dieters are concerned, this kind of technology could help to keep track of fat intake, a crucial part of the weight-loss process.
Since both the IC3 and MIT’s intelligent spoon are still in their early concept phases, it is likely that there will be considerable improvements made before they are released to consumers.

The potential negative points now, like needing to check a computer for the amount of salt in a dish, or having to switch between three utensils instead of having one utensil measure all of the important information, might be reformed in later designs.

Regardless, once these utensils become available to consumers, they are sure to have a big impact on how people eat, even if they only become popular among certain groups. For now, though, diners will have to cook and watch what they eat the old-fashioned way — through taste tests and careful observances of the nutritional content of the foods they consume.