The kitchen of the future doesn’t yet include robots making dinner for us, but it does include technologies our parents didn’t have at their disposal, and have ventured far beyond energy efficient dishwashers and refrigerators. Here are five ways technology is transforming our kitchens today and in the near future.
Information appliances are becoming ubiquitous. While we started by talking to infotainment systems in our cars, asking for directions and recommendations for restaurants by the nearest exit, they have now arrived in living rooms. They read audio books out loud, answer questions and give us the latest news. They are now becoming common in kitchen appliances, whether adding items to a shopping list stored in the cloud, ordering items as soon as someone discovers they are low, or reading instructions off of a recipe website as someone cooks.
The ability to order meal kits with a one hour delivery time because you realized you have company coming in two is certainly a shift from the historical norm of riffling for the takeaway menus or wipping up a quick something. The option of ordering that one item you forgot because your infotainment system can quickly search for open supermarkets or local takeouts saves time and stops worry.
The Internet of Things
The internet of things refers to internet connectivity in everyday devices. In theory, you could end up with a refrigerator control board diagnosing a refrigerant leak and calling for service without the homeowner ever knowing. Due to the risk of fraud involved and privacy concerns, the real world version of this is a fridge reporting the error to a home automation system and informing the homeowner that the temperature in the fridge is climbing, and asking if they want to order service. A less obvious version of this is the digital picture frames built into some cutting edge refrigerators, flipping through photos from someone’s online photo gallery and sometimes generating internet connectivity errors. Fewer refrigerators are able to play cooking videos visible to someone working on the stove, but they do exist.
Induction cooktops allow you to cook your food without the immediate risk of getting burned, but the high cost of induction cookware and stovetops has limited their adoption. However, material science is improving the cookware everyone else uses. For example, the best stainless steel cookware not only resists corrosion but is naturally non-stick. The newer multi-ply stainless steel cookware cooks faster while still being durable, scratch resistant and dishwasher safe. Copper cores and aluminum cores are the most popular. Carbon steel cookware is more popular in Europe; it requires seasoning like traditional cast iron cookware but is nonstick and cooks very evenly. It handles high heat like cast iron but without the difficulty of cleaning it afterwards.
Smart Cooking Appliances
We’ll leave aside the 3D printers designed for use in the kitchen, since they remain the purview of bakers making edible laminates based on photos and complex designs most of us aren’t going to try on a regular basis. The reality is that you can find smart appliances like ovens that are already programmed with thermal profiles for a hundred different recipes. In that same vein, homebrewers will appreciate the “smart” brewers with dozens of pre-programmed profiles to make the perfect ale or lager.
In 2017, a voice activated grill appeared at trade shows. The grill can cook the food to your stated preferences and text you when the food is ready. The more common versions of this “intelligence” are microwave ovens that more evenly reheat or defrost food. For those that already post images of their restaurant meals, Whirlpool has already pioneered a cooktop with social media integration so you can read recipes off the same work surface as you use to cook and share pictures of it as you create the meal.
Improved Energy Efficiency
There are innovations on the horizon like refrigerators being designed not to use refrigerants but ultrasonic waves, though these are not yet commonplace. The real world application of advancing technologies are the refrigerators with two compressors, engaging the second only when the energy expenditure is necessary. Dual-zone refrigerators and strictly controlled temperature and humidity levels monitored by appliance control boards as smart as small computers are becoming commonplace.
Conversely, the design of appliances hasn’t quite caught up with all the smart control boards in them, so it isn’t as easy to reboot the refrigerator as it is your PC. We may see the same technology make its way into dishwashers so that it uses the right temperature profile to clean the dishes perfectly without having to enter a complex programming sequence at the start; this saves water and energy over the common practice of setting it to heavy duty and to use hot water just to make sure everything comes out clean.
Many homeowners are waiting for these appliances to become verbal, so that they can communicate what the dishwasher thinks is wrong instead of blinking error codes at them. As the kitchen becomes more networked, you may find the display on the fridge reporting that the dishwasher has a clog in the drain hose, which is why it shut down.
Some appliances are designed with sensors to detect when the stove is empty or the cooktop has nothing on it, automatically shutting down if it thinks it is abandoned. These safety features are likely to become more common because of the aging population prone to forgetfulness, though they originated as energy saving measures.
Information appliances are routinely sitting in the corner of the kitchen, answering questions, reciting recipes and ordering items on demand, including pizza if you ruined the roast. Smart appliances have the capability to order service but more often inform owners when there is an error. Cookware is now made of new hybrid materials that combine the best of all materials involved for even heating, durability and ease of use. Finally, artificial intelligence is making its way into kitchen appliances to cook your food perfectly and simplify food prep.