Sheltering-in-place orders sent many of us into the kitchen, baking and pickling and tackling ambitious cooking projects that maybe hadn’t captured as much widespread public interest pre-pandemic. So I wasn’t surprised that design engineers at consumer products companies spent 2020 thinking about high-tech kitchen gadgets.
The wave of kitchen tech introduced at CES 2021 includes a countertop chocolate factory that, if priced right, will likely be a top holiday gift in 2021. It also includes yet another attempt to apply Keurig’s pod concept as well as a spoon I’m not exactly sure I want in my mouth.
Unfortunately, with an all-digital CES this year, I was unable to get my hands on any of these gadgets—or to taste their creations. Instead, I viewed live-streamed demos or recorded pitches. And since some of the best food-tech ideas don’t necessarily produce the best tasting foods, the jury is very much out. But here are my picks for at least the most mouth-watering kitchen gadgets from CES 2021.
CocoTerra’s countertop automated chocolate factory.
The process of making chocolate from scratch has always seemed magical, even without Willie Wonka involved, and I’ve never missed a chance to visit a chocolate factory. I’ve seen enough to know that getting from cocoa bean to chocolate bar has many steps involving friction and heating and cooling. And so while chocolate making might seem like the perfect pandemic project, it’s a little too complicated to try at home. Which is why CocoTerra’s chocolate-making appliance jumped out at me. Founder Nate Saal, who previously worked in software engineering at various tech companies, explained in a live-streamed demo that the company’s recipes suggest different combinations of cocoa nibs, sugar, cocoa butter, and milk powder. It takes about two hours for the gadget to grind, heat, cool, spin, stir, and mold the chocolate. And, as a big selling point for me, the countertop appliance is compact, approximately 10 inches in diameter and 13 inches tall. Saal pointed out that he designed the gadget to use user-measured ingredients, not pods, to open up the possibilities of using cocoa beans from different sources. Pricing is not yet available
ColdSnap’s rapid ice-cream maker
ColdSnap’s 90-second countertop ice-cream freezer didn’t excite me as much as CocoTerra’s chocolate factory, as it’s a pod-based system—and there have been many bad pod ideas since Keurig introduced the world to coffee pods. Not only am I thinking that the single-serving pods, at $2.50 or more each, are pricier than an equivalent amount of premium ice cream, but also I’m skeptical that the product will taste as good. Rather, ColdSnap seems like a gadget that would quickly go from countertop to garage. The device, which the company says can make smoothies and frozen cocktails as well as ice cream, did win a CES Innovation Award, however. ColdSnap is expected to retail at $500 to $1000.
PantryChic’s automated ingredient dispensing system
PantryChic’s creators jumped onto two trends from the early days of stay-at-home orders—pantry reorganization (think matching canisters) and baking. They came up with a system that accurately measures flour and other dry ingredients by weight, automatically converting cups to the gram equivalent when necessary. Users store ingredients in PantryChic’s clear, smart canisters, identifying the type of ingredient when they fill each canister. Then the gadget will recognize the ingredient when the canister locks onto the dispenser. For someone who bakes constantly and prefers the precision of weighed ingredients, perhaps this gadget makes sense. But the company’s visuals suggest rice, cereal, and beans be dispensed by the device as well as flour and sugar—and that’s really not going to happen in a normal kitchen. The starter system—the countertop dispenser and two small canisters—is $350, additional canisters are $40 to $45.
TasteBooster’s SpoonTek flavor-enhancing spoon
TasteBooster’s founders Ken and Cameron Davidov have been developing products that use a mild electric current produced by the human body for several years. Their latest, SpoonTek, aims to use that current to “excite the taste buds.” The user places a finger on an electrode on the spoon handle, scoops up food, and completes the circuit by touching the tongue to the bowl of the spoon. The founders say the system will allow the health-conscious to use less salt and will also eliminate bitter aftertastes, enabling users to enjoy foods they may previously have found unpleasant. The spoons are priced at $29 each, less in quantity, on Indiegogo.
HyperLychee’s Skadu electric pot scrubber
Finally, we get to cleanup, and a power pot scrubber. Think cordless drill with scrubbing pads and other attachments. There just may be a market for it among people who do the kitchen cleanup in their households and are fans of power tools. The Skadu is $70 on Indiegogo.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.