07:00 Wednesday 19 December 2012

Applying yourself to the kitchen kit

We’ve all got them. Those kitchen gadgets that came as a present or were bought because, at the time, they seemed like a good idea.

The juicer that is so big it takes up half the worktop space and only ever gets used once a year. The toasted sandwich maker that gives your mouth third degree burns, the soda stream, the children’s ice-cream maker, the fondue set and, worst of all, the chocolate fountain!

So what does rank as a useful appliance? And what should we be on the look-out for when we are buying?

Budget is the first consideration but whether you are buying a small or large appliance is irrelevant – choose a reputable brand to make sure you get a quality product. Apart from anything else it will come with a warranty should something go wrong.

An appliance made by a household name may come with many added features - but it may not. Quality doesn’t necessarily mean quantity and often you won’t have the need or desire to use half of what a particular appliance has to offer.

As for size, if you don’t have a lot of space then the last thing you want to do is clutter it more, to the point where you can’t function. You also need to be sure any large appliance you purchase will fit in the space you have allocated to it.

You should also make sure that the design of the appliance matches the theme of your kitchen. There is nothing worse than working hard to make your kitchen look just the way you want it to only to buy something new and have it stick out like a sore thumb.

I mean realy... how often do you use that breadmaker?
I mean really... how often do you use that breadmaker?

Looking ahead - the appliance of science?

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), researchers are working on the next 100 years of the kitchen. Despite all the recent additions, kitchens "remain dangerous and messy places and in world that is increasingly vying for our attention, we are abandoning the hearth for a meal on the run," reads the mission statement for MIT's Counter Intelligence project.

"Our goal is to reverse this trend to make the kitchen the centre of family life by providing technologies that improve functionality and engage us cognitively and socially. Specifically, we are focusing on the technologies of context sensing, material science, machine learning, and computer-supported cooperative work, with product and scenario design at the heart of our query."

So not just a new kind of can-opener then?

What the scientists at MIT are cooking up is attaching internet connections to appliances; making utensils that can help you cook and installing sensors that will keep you safe from fire or poisons. Counter Intelligence has been running for years to help creative engineers develop and build prototypes of advanced kitchen appliances and utensils.

MIT's Connie Cheng and Leonardo Bonanni have also worked on putting some intelligence into other kitchen utensils. What about a spoon that uses tiny sensors to measure the temperature, acidity, salinity and viscosity of a food you're making? As you make your cake mixture or Bolognese, the intelligent spoon would tell you at each stage if you're following the recipe properly, when you should stir, and how much and when to add each new ingredient.

What about help with cooking?

The chameleon mug uses heat-sensitive inks and metal strips to change colour as the contents get hotter or cooler. The mug also contains sensors to tell you if your liquid is too salty or sweet for the recipe you're going for. Perhaps you need to add more vinegar? Maybe the milk has gone bad? The mug could help you make the perfect drink or sauce.

The researchers have even re-designed the kitchen sink. Ever broken plates while throwing them into the sink to clean them? The MIT group are looking at sinks made of rubber – they are as soft as human flesh but can withstand hundreds of degrees Celsius in temperature.

Bonanni is also behind one of the devices that might interest those with an aversion to washing up. The Dishmaker is designed to get rid of the stacks of plates taking up space in cupboards and all of which require an endless cycle of washing and drying. Instead, Bonanni's device can produce cups, saucers and plates at the push of a button, almost like a 3D printer. When you've used the crockery, you just put it back into the machine, where it gets ground up and melted down, ready for the next time you need plates or anything else.

Personally, I think I’ll stick with a can-opener.

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