While living in an increasingly globalized world certainly has its benefits when it comes to spreading culture, the spread of different foods has had mixed results. Although it is now possible to find a wide variety of exotic spices for sale, ranging from dill pollen to fennel seeds, not many people learn to properly identify or use the great ingredients they use; for example, it’s not uncommon to hear people at spice markets asking “what are kaffir leaves?” or see them looking askance when they receive spices as gifts. However, this pales in comparison to the quality of various dishes that spread around the world: when asked, most immigrants will tell you that their native foods are far better in their homelands, an observation that often proves to be more than nostalgia when you make a visit yourself. Now, a Thai company is trying to correct this symptom of international integration by creating a robot that can determine the authenticity of Thai food.
Called Thai Delicious, the company’s team of scientists designed a printer-sized machine they named e-Delicious, which uses sensors and computer circuitry to check the taste and smell of different dishes. The machine’s standards are based on the reviews of 200 people from Bangkok, who tasted and voted on different versions of classic Thai cuisine until a general consensus emerged. The designers admit that this means e-Delicious’s ratings are biased towards tastes in Bangkok, but the machine itself is still quite interesting and futuristic: able to measure the balance of the six Thai flavors–sweet, sour, bitter, salty, savory and spicy– as well as a dish’s visual presentation, e-Delicious has attracted a lot of support from Thailand’s government, who see it as a sort of quality assurance measure for the world’s perception of Thai culinary culture.
But despite the machine’s name, both supporters and critics agree that the robot cannot actually determine if a dish is delicious; instead, it analyzes flavors and compares their combinations to an approved standard. Chefs especially have pointed out that this directive ignores the human quality that should actually determine if a dish is good or not. Despite this view, however, Thai Delicious plans to retail its product for at least $18,000 per unit and have also created an app for smartphones. But you don’t need a machine to help you embrace the increasingly global nature of cooking: instead, research different spices and ingredients available and try out new recipes. Don’t just ask yourself “what are kaffir leaves?”; try them! If taste is human and subjective, you have the chance to make something truly delicious, regardless of what a tasting robot says.
(For those wondering, “what are kaffir leaves?”, they are the hourglass-shaped leaves of an Asian lime tree. They are an extremely popular ingredient in Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Indonesian dishes, but it is becoming more polite to refer to the fruit as “makrut”; “kaffir” is considered an ethnic slur in some cultures.) Links like this.