Featured Image by Gilda Furgiuele of I & J Ideations. All images images by Beckett Mufson except where specified
According to the opening line of the website's about page, New York City's annual World Maker Faire is "an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors". In June, I wrote about the teen tech prodigies that wowed the world at the White House Maker Faire, so I was familiar with the Maker Movement. I had readied myself for the fact that I'd encounter some of the most creative minds in the country. I wasn't, however, prepared to witness a lock-picking class, a Radioshack, and a giant robotic giraffe all in the same place. Luckily, everyone I talked to was there to have fun, and was just as jazzed about the future as I am.
The faire took the form of a parade of intellectual delights, populated by dueling quadcoptors, jerry-rigged robot heads, a human-sized cardboard velociraptor, and more companies hocking "the future" than I could count. One posse, however, stood out from the rest, and actually delivered on their promise: BevLab showed me the future of food.
Front and center at the modest exhibition space, a domed, spheroid vase known as "The Cloud" sat wafting a mysterious mist from its rim. "Go ahead, take a sip," Irwin Adam Eydelnant, co-founder of BevLab's Toronto-based parent company I & J Ideations, prompted faire-goers. "Try to guess the flavor." On the first gulp, I didn't taste anything—I was too busy coughing and choking, having attempted to inhale the vapor rather than drink it. A 12-year-old seated next to me got it on the first try.
My second attempt was more successful, and the flavorful cloud went down smooth. I tried to impress the culinary masterminds and my cohort, intiming a taste "Vaguely minty, but slightly more complex." I gazed off into the distance, trying to identify the flavor. Someone told me I was "really overthinking it."
It turned out it was mint, one of just three flavors offered, but it was some of the strangest, most minty mint I'd ever tasted. I knew for a fact that I wanted more. Following the Faire, I researched I & J Ideations to learn all I could about cloud-based cuisine.
As it goes, Eydelnant, along with fellow founder Jarlath Byrne Rodgers are "on an unmapped exploration of food future," according to the company website. "Combining their passions for eating and design with their backgrounds in engineering, biology, and technology," they duo has created a technology that allows for the vaporization and consumption of cloudified foods. I decided to go to the source and ask Eydelnant about his sci-fi culinary visions, as well as the science (sans-fiction) of The Cloud that rained tasty flavors on my Maker Faire experience:
The Creators Project: Your goal is to explore the future of food—what's wrong with the way we eat now?
Irwin Adam Eydelnant: In many contexts, we as individuals and communities have lost consciousness of thought around food. Consumption has become a mechanical process for many, and though we've seen a rise in foodie trends, the majority of eaters remain unintentional in their eating habits. Our studio seeks to explore an emergence in food thought and intent, not through paternalistic lecturing, but through imagination and delight. We believe the future of food will inspire us to think about where our food comes from, how it was formed, and what it contains, guiding us to more intentional eating practices.
Can you tell me about what led to your edible cloud generator?
The cloud generator emerged from a conceptualization session around the future of beverage. As an engineer, the classic approach to revamping any system is to reverse-engineer it. We first worked with cola and broke it down into it's base flavorings, which included many beautiful natural ingredients. In an effort to take the deconstruction one step further we thought to eliminate the most common association with beverage, phase, and developed a process to create table top clouds. We quickly learned that the clouds could be poured into glasses, sipped through straws, layered over one another, or over other beverages.
The cloud itself plays to the physiology of taste and flavour, as the majority of flavour detection occurs within the retronasal olfactory system (basically your nasal passage connected to the back of your mouth). In typical food consumption we taste with the taste buds on our tongues, then as we chew we generate tiny aerosols (like The Cloud) that proceed to stimulate the olfactory neurons that differentiate the 10,000+ flavours the brain can detect.
How does the device actually work?
The process for cloud generation is relatively simple. We utilize a piezo element that vibrates at ultrasonic frequencies at the base of a glass vessel containing flavoured water. Energy waves are transferred through the liquid from the piezo element and break the liquid into tiny droplets as the energy emerges from the surface. We've successfully made clouds from dozens of flavours, everything from cinnamon and anise to chicken soup and red wine.
What were the biggest influences on the edible cloud generator's design?
Much of the design of this system stemmed from the studio question of what a cloud might look like on a kitchen table, as though it were an appliance not unlike a toaster or a coffee maker. In fact there are multiple iterations of the cloud that exist at our studio, serving different functions from flavouring cloud rooms to dispensing units for bar settings with thought given to the user experience relevant to the space. Our studio laboratory aesthetics are inspired by scientific work spaces combined with Japanese and Scandinavian design, as such the cloud in the form presented here was meant to merge seamlessly within this environment. The glass vessel containing the cloud, angles carefully towards the user and the acrylic base is laser cut and assembled around the glass with a divot for support evoking an organic yet futuristic sentiment.
I only got to try mint, licorice, and butterscotch in person. What are some of the best, worst, and weirdest flavors and combos you guys have come up with?
Oddly enough the first cloud we tested was made from borscht (Russian beet soup). We've experimented with multitudes of flavours and mixtures since. The most jarring was definitely the cloud hot dog stand - we had a toasted bun, italian sausage, mustard, ketchup, and relish clouds. When you mixed them together you tasted street cart hot dogs in cloud form. Mexican mole clouds made from chocolate and a range of spices have been delicious, while cloud cocktails have made interesting evenings that much more interesting.
How do you envision people using this technology in the future?
This technology originated as a purely conceptual project, however as we've interacted more with the clouds and vessels we've found brilliant uses in the development of evolving beverages and ethereal flavours. In one regard the cloud potentiates an entire field of highly experiential and entertaining food and beverage interactions. On a more practical side there has been emerging evidence within clinical practise, suggesting that formats such as the cloud can be used to improve appetite in certain patients with compromised taste or smell (as is the case for individuals undergoing chemotherapy or with dementia). Ultimately the cloud remains a single tool in our studio's ever developing and evolving stable of inspiring food technologies that we hope will increase food thought, intention, and curiosity.