Hacked recipes and printing food: When bytes meet bites


The mythical Cornucopia project.

Everyone may not get excited about open APIs or 3-D printing (what is wrong with y’all?) but everyone loves food. And as someone whose’s big on making food fit for the web and covering ways that will enable us to track what we eat and learn how to cook, I’m always on the lookout for novel ways the tech world interacts with food (or even food prep). Here are four I found in the last few days.

Tech’s-Mex: Anyone remember the Cornocopia project from a few years ago at MIT? It wasn’t real, but the idea of printing out your own food Jetson’s style caught everyone’s imagination. Well, over at Engadget they uncovered the Burritob0t, in which a student from NYU combined beans and melted cheese using a Makerbot Frostruder (its like a robotic pastry bag) attached to a 3-D printer from RepRap.

An ink-jet for the flavor set: Sure, we’ve all seen the cool printers at bakeries that can print a photo on top of a cake, but a patent granted earlier this year offers a similar ink-jet color and flavor spraying combo, and it can print on any substance. The patent offers an example of printing a chip with BBQ flavors in a way that adds both color (let’s cover this thing in char-marks!) and taste. If I could get that tech inside a little gun I’d never have a bland meal again. If HP wants to further confuse us about what business it’s in, it will find the patent holders and expand its printer business to edible horizons.

S mmmmmmm S: This isn’t using tech to make food exactly, mostly it’s a means to order it. The idea is a text-enabled espresso machine. You text a number with your order and the machine starts whipping up your cappuccino. As a finishing touch an ink jet printer puts the last 3 digits of your phone number on the order so you can identify it. As ideas go, this is more of a marketing gimmick to sell Zipwhip’s cloud texting technology, but I can’t help but get behind the idea of building robot-powered espresso machines to sell something.

Turn by turn directions for your latest recipe: This one I found on our own site, but it’s actually pretty neat sounding. YumvY wants to divide up your recipes in tasks and will tell you when to perform each one. So if the recipe is complicated or perhaps you neglected to read ahead, you won’t suddenly get to the step where you’re supposed to puree the sautéed carrots with the ginger you just chopped only to realize that you never actually sautéed the carrots. Instead the app tells you when to put the water on and when to chop.

All in all, food is at the epicenter of a digitization trend. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have databases of food that people can easily access for recipes or nutritional information. And we don’t have widely adopted standards for writing recipes so apps like Yumvy can easily parse my digital cookbooks. And honestly we don’t really even have a great way to create our own personal digital cookbooks. All of which means, that there’s a lot of room for innovation, which means some of these ideas are just a start.



I’m intrigued by your last paragraph and the assumption that we need to adopt a standardized format for recipes. We’re (pasplore.com) taking a different approach to the problem: we use statistical methods. It’s working quite well. We’ve already made it possible to automatically save recipes from anywhere on the web (the personal digital cookbook idea), and we’re about to take it up a notch and automatically calculate nutritional information. Again, we do all this without requiring any sort of standardization …

Dave Mackey

Pretty cool. What I really want is some automatic way to track what I eat – nothing that requires me to track it manually…maybe biodegradable markers within foods (if you want it), and it can “figure out” how much you ate based on how many rfid trackers you consume (say in rice, there might be one rfid tracker per 2,000 rice [what do you call individual rice? too lazy to google at the moment]).

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