Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center
Innovations in the kitchen
By Nurhan Dunford
Until the 18th century food was cooked on open fire. The space used for preparing food was nothing like what is called a kitchen today. Even up until the 20th century, the kitchen simply functioned as a place just to store and prepare food. Kitchens were typically located in the back of the home.
The design, functionality and efficiency of kitchens have evolved with the technological advances and as gas, water and electricity became more readily available in houses. The industrial era brought stoves, refrigerators and dishwashers into the kitchen. During the 1950s, the kitchen became the focal point in the house as household work became the epitome of the ideal family bonding. The location of the kitchen moved to the center of many houses and is equipped and furnished with beautiful, comfortable and functional furniture and appliances.
Recent technological advancements, lifestyles and expectations of Millennials are changing the kitchen paradigm once again. Industry experts predict kitchens will get smaller in the next decade because the population will be more urbanized and more concerned about the environment. Smaller, high-density high-rises, multigenerational residences and units as small as 250 to 400 square feet are already growing trends in many states. Even TV programs focus on how to design, build or purchase tiny houses with small blueprints, usually less than 300 square feet, can function off-grid, and can be moved behind a mid-size truck or SUV.
Millennials are not necessarily eager to sacrifice, but they are looking for a simpler yet fuller life, easier ways to connect with family, friends and nature while freeing themselves from large mortgages and the time commitment required to maintain a large house. Architects are designing fully functional kitchens taking up no more than 5 percent of total living space, which would be about 12 to 18 square feet. Unlike Baby Boomers and Generation X, Millennials are less concerned about the aesthetics of a kitchen and more about functionality and making environmentally sound choices.
An induction cooktop, which utilizes oscillating magnetic fields to directly heat a cooking vessel, is a good example of an environmentally sensible selection. The induction-cooking technology has been around for decades, but recently, the price of this technology is going down due to an increasing demand. The induction-cooking time is much shorter and more energy efficient than traditional electric stoves because the heat is generated only where it is needed. The surface, which is not in contact with the cookware, is cool, not heated, and the entire cookware surface touching the cooktop receives equal heat creating dishes that are cooked consistently. The induction burners give off so little heat that even a small kitchen stays relatively cool during cooking. When the cookware is moved off the surface, heating stops immediately.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimated 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year. This amount is equivalent to about a third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide. A large portion of the food loss occurs at the consumer level and at home. Food waste has significant implications on sustainability of vital resources such as land, energy and water. Implementation of smart-management systems, which allow users to remotely control their smart kitchen appliances on a single platform, can alleviate some of these problems. Appliance manufacturers are working on refrigerators that are connected to a food-management system, a digital database keeping track of the food in a refrigerator. After a trip to a grocery store, products purchased can be entered into the system by selecting icons on the fridge’s LCD panel, issuing voice commands or scanning barcodes or receipts with a smartphone. The system can suggest meals that can be prepared with available ingredients using the input list, and the health manager feature can make recommendations based on customized profiles and dietary restrictions of the household. After selecting a suggested dish, the user can press a button on the refrigerator or smartphone to send a signal to a smart oven to heat it to the desired temperature. Consumers do not need to prepare a shopping list before leaving the house. With a glance at a smartphone, users can find out if there’s enough milk at home and whether it has expired. Also, finding products in a crowded fridge is not a problem. A FridgeCam can take display snapshots of a fridge’s contents whenever an item is added or removed. Consumers don’t have to linger in front of an open fridge trying to see where the item might be and wasting energy. In addition, consumers could be on their way to work and getting alerts from the Wi-Fi-enabled refrigerator and appliances indicating they forgot their lunch in the fridge or if there is an issue with an appliance.
Appliance manufacturers continue to explore and develop more high-tech ways to purchase, store, prepare and cook food at home. Multi-sense technologies can detect actions in the kitchen and open and close trash cans, cabinet and appliance doors, eliminating the need to touch and potentially minimizing cross contamination in the kitchen. In the near future, sensors in the sink and dishwasher will detect chemicals or bacteria in food and alert consumers the items need to be further washed. Another sensor in the faucet would measure body hydration levels with the touch of a finger, allowing a person to quickly see whether they need to drink more water. Soon consumers will be able to grow their food on the walls and convert food waste into energy right in the kitchen.
The refrigerator is probably the largest energy-consuming device in the house. Can it be eliminated all together? The kitchen cabinets filled with nitrogen for storing butter and cheeses at room temperature, and cabinets with ultraviolet lights, hydroponic fluid and mists for keeping produce fresh are at a development stage. Flex-temp shelving systems are designed to cool foods on each shelf to a temperature appropriate for the item placed on that shelf. A piece of meat in a smart package would be able to communicate with the cabinet shelf that it is a 16-ounce steak, and it needs to be stored at a certain temperature. The Bio Robot Refrigerator is a new cooling concept that individually refrigerates the items placed in non-sticky and odorless gels at their optimal temperatures eliminating the need for doors or compartments. A fridge equipped with ultraviolet light would sanitize the food within it, keeping it safe from spoilage. The 3-D technology is getting faster, cheaper and better every day. Although it has not been widely used in food preparation yet, this technology has the potential to revolutionize how food is prepared, not only at home but also in restaurants and the food industry.
The upcoming digital interactive technologies dramatically impacting aspects of peoples’ lives are exciting. The technologies enabling most of the futuristic ideas and designs mentioned in this article are already available; however, the issues are implementation and getting the costs to an affordable level. The implications of kitchens equipped with digitally interconnected and interactive devices on food safety, quality and consumer choices are tremendous. Making healthier and safer food choices is becoming simpler. There is no question that interactive kitchens will help to support healthier lifestyles, save resources and reduce stress.
2. Melanie Zanoza Bartelme. What’s Cooking in the Kitchen of the Future. Food Technology. December 2015, Volume 69, No.12.