A Dash of Design: Smart Soy Sauce Lid Improves on Perfection

A Dash of Design: Smart Soy Sauce Lid Improves on Perfection

The Japanese are known for their flair for design – especially for food-related items, which they often turn into complete experiences in themselves. Contemplating the perfection that is opening a Ramune bottle, or the long and storied history of bento is an exercise in a cultural respect for food we don’t often see in North America.

Add to the list of delicious Japanese inventions the humble Kikkoman soy sauce decanter, that (on our shores at least) is most often seen gracing a sushi restaurant table. Originally created by Kenji Ekuan in 1961, the perfectly balanced sloping glass bottle with the distinctive bi-spouted red cap is so revered by the design field that MoMA has it in their collection. Ekuan’s decanter was so ideal for its purpose that it’s been used continually for sixty years, with no improvements needed – until last month.

Matthew Clark of Odachi Design in Los Angeles has 3D printed a prototype of a new soy sauce lid that addresses what he sees as the chief flaw in the original design: That it leaves the soy sauce inside open to the air and, therefore, flavour-robbing oxidization. Said Clark:

“‘Soy sauce’s greatest enemy is oxygen. So, with my design, I harnessed the capabilities of 3D printing to integrate a gravity valve within the lid itself. This is achievable with 3D printing, but costly or much more difficult otherwise. The valve is printed within the top when it’s produced. This was created to effectively maintain the flavor and shelf-life. After every pour, the remaining liquid aids the seal.’”

Clark was careful to create a smart lid that respected Ekuan’s original look, making sure that it was, in the parlance, “plug compatible” with Kikkoman’s iconic bottles. The next step would be to ensure Kikkoman’s approval of this 21st century spin on a mid-century modern classic, and to try the smart lid out in food-safe plastics for mass production. I’d love to see one of these in action at my local sushi joint; both to witness two designers collaborate three generations apart, and to enjoy the freshest soy sauce ever. As the Japanese food and design ethos has proven time and again, it’s the simple things that matter!

Stacking Up The World Record Competition

I’ve always enjoyed flipping through a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records whenever I’ve come across one. (I’ve had great luck at garage sales and, weirdly, medical professionals’ offices.) It’s humbling to consider the marvels we humans can accomplish — from memorizing decimals of pi (70,000, by Rajveer Meena), to growing the longest fingernails (8.65 metres, by Lee Redmond), to my personal favourite, achieving the Guinness World Record for the most Guinness World Records (over 700 since 1979, by Ashrita Furman).

I’d resigned myself to never having the time or the athletic skill to rack up a Guinness Record myself. But that was before I read this charming account of the quest for the greatest number of M&Ms candies stacked on top of each other. I was not prepared for the current record: a whopping seven.

“Guinness World Records posted a video of the achievement on Instagram last week — and with seven candies, it looks really difficult. [Record holder Ibrahim] Sadeq wears special finger gloves and needs plenty of effort to steady the final stack. He’s also an accomplished stacker in general: Sadeq is co-holder of the world record for Most Balanced Eggs on the Back of the Hand. (It’s 18 eggs.) […]

So what was Sadeq’s trick to get to seven? ‘I am using a mix of mind and body focus but people usually define it as a gravity defying act,’ Sadeq, who says he’s been stacking things for six years, told Guinness World Records. ‘I could possibly balance anything, but it gets really tough with light objects or liquids.’”

The record for stacked M&Ms was four back in 2016, and in the past 15 months alone the record was beaten three separate times, with Sadeq ending up on top. For now — I’m tempted to try for this bizarrely accessible-sounding record myself! I’m sure it’s more frustrating than it looks though; I may benefit more from the repeated, zen-like encounters with failure that I’m certain will result. Either way, this is a case of sometimes it pays to play with your food!

Snappy Chocolate: An Innovation in 3D Printed Food

chocolate with snap

We’ve got a deep, dark (chocolately) dive this week, into the world of 3D printing food. We’ve looked at printed meat in this space before, but this news is decidedly sweeter: A team from the University of Amsterdam has devised a method of 3D printing chocolate in forms that maximize its “snap factor” — a crispness of mouthfeel that is the hallmark of higher quality chocolate. The process is intensely engineered, as Andrew Liszewski of Gizmodo writes.

“Melted chocolate that had been tempered to reach the stage where phase V crystals form was loaded into syringes that had to be kept at 90-degrees Fahrenheit while the printer built up structures layer by layer. But maintaining that temperature proved to be a challenge, requiring constant recalibration to account for the chocolate thickening over time. […]

The results were shared in a recently published paper, ‘Edible mechanical metamaterials with designed fracture for mouthfeel control,’ in the journal Soft Matter. They confirmed what the researchers speculated: the perceived quality and enjoyment of eating chocolate could be improved by increasing the number of cracks experienced while biting into a piece through S-shaped structures of increasing complexity. The researchers also found the experience could be improved by creating chocolate with anisotropic structures that alter the resistance felt during the bite through shapes and patterns that shear and break with force applied in specific directions.”

Wags in the Gizmodo comments are sounding off about how gross they find “crispy” chocolate as a concept, but I chalk that up to the American obsession with caramel and creamy peanut butter in their candy bars. Try an Aero or (the world’s best chocolate bar and I will die on this hill) a Twirl bar, and I think you’ll know what these researchers are talking about!

This technology would be a boon for folks with low tasting ability, or anyone who prefers a bit of texture to jazz up their snacks. It could also be applied to (wait for it) 3D printed meat, giving it a more accurate texture by laying down contrasting “grains.” It’s possible we could have a whole meal’s worth of printed food available to us in the near future — tasty food to boot. I for one welcome our new dessert-providing robot overlords!

New Chopsticks Zap Sodium Content

From a second chance for single-use chopsticks, we pivot to a high-value pair you may want to keep forever: Japan’s Meiji University and the food and beverage company Kirin have collaborated on the creation of chopsticks that can help eaters reduce their sodium intake, through the power of electricity!

The futuristic utensils are attached to a microcomputer worn on the diner’s wrist. They emit a tiny electrical current that creates an artificial salty taste in the mouth of the wearer. How this is done is some pretty nifty science.

“The chopsticks use ‘very weak electricity – not enough to affect the human body – to adjust the function of ions such as sodium chloride and sodium glutamate to change the perception of taste by making food seem to taste stronger or weaker, Kirin said in a statement.

[Prof. Homei] Miyashita and Kirin said clinical tests on people who follow a low-sodium diet had confirmed that the device enhances the salty taste of low-sodium food by about 1.5 times. They said participants given reduced-salt miso soup had commented on the improved ‘richness, sweetness and overall tastiness’ of the dish.

As someone who makes condiments for a living, I know firsthand how important salt is in a dish. These chopsticks would be a particular godsend for those with medical conditions that prevent them from consuming actual salt – an especially miserable diet. (Though we could all do with a bit of sodium awareness, if not reduction) The Meiji/Kirin team plans to refine the prototype and start rolling out sets of chopsticks to consumers next year. In particular, it’ll be interesting to see how a larger salt-loving populace like that of Japan finds these. I’d love to try a pair myself!