Prototype of a smart spoon

2008 HowStuffWorks

Intelligent Spoon

­Currently, the prototype intelligent spoon is made of clear plastic so that you can see an array of wires running through the inside. The smart spoon contains zinc, aluminum and gold sensors. When the spoon touches food, the sensors measure the concoction's temperature, acidity, salinity and viscosity. When you connect the spoon to a computer with a cord, the computer analyzes the information from the spoon and provides feedback. Although the intelligent spoon is still in development, we guess that it measures these factors and creates suggestions based on a database of recipes stored in the computer.

How might this play out in the kitchen? Say you're making salad dressing from scratch. You find a recipe on the computer and start following it. You accidentally add too much salt, and you're worried the entire dressing is too salty. Rather than tasting the dressing, figuring out how to adjust it and tasting it again, the computer would tell you to add a certain amount of sugar. The computer would tell you how much vinegar or lime juice to add so that you had just the right amount of acidity, as measured by the mix's pH level. Is the dressing not holding together? The viscosity sensor will alert the computer that you need more egg yolk. It would be like having a GPS system for each recipe -- a step-by-step instruction based on what's in the bowl.

Now, if you love to cook, this might seem a bit silly. Some cooks would argue that your intuition and personal preference are better guides for preparing food than any precise recipe. It's the joy of tasting and tinkering that creates magic in the kitchen, and mistakes are part of the process. You just may stumble onto something better than what's in the cookbook. Cooks may even point out that you can't always follow a recipe word for word. For example, baking at higher altitudes is much different than baking at sea level because altitude affects moisture content. It's too early to tell whether the intelligent spoon will provide this level of assistance.

While cooking may become intuitive, the intelligent spoon could really help new cooks or clumsy cooks get on the right foot in the kitchen. They may eventually learn from their intelligent spoon and feel more comfortable cooking on their own. However, the intelligent spoon is not for sale yet, and there are several unknowns, including cost and ease of use. Smart appliances in general are not widely available in the marketplace, in part because they're usually more expensive than traditional appliances and because they can be more complicated to use. Many people may not trust a smart appliance when the regular one works just fine. In the case of the smart spoon, not everyone will want to drag a laptop into the kitchen for cooking advice.

Still, we may see the smart spoon in stores one day -- there are already some sensor spoons for sale. These spoons, meant to be used in the microwave, change color as the meal heats. When you see that your spoon is a certain color, you'll know it's time to eat. One variation is specifically for babies, so that a caregiver will know if food is too hot for a baby's gums.

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