From ‘kalchattis’ to Wi-Fi crockpots, the modern Indian kitchen is evolving to converge emerging and wireless technologies with tradition
If not for robots yet, our Indian kitchens are becoming increasingly smart. As much as we use traditional cookware handed down by our grandmothers, we brought in Wi-Fi and Alexa-enabled crockpots and blenders. Our modular kitchens have grown to become integrated spaces, which embed the smart appliances into the kitchen units.
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Even the refrigerator is no longer just a space to preserve food. Costing a little over ₹2,00,000, these smart refrigerators compile shopping lists, play videos and can even read out the news to say the least. Meanwhile, Amazon’s first home service robot, Astro gives full-time surveillance, checks on the kitchen, and even tosses pets their favourite treats.
Under the hood
Intelligent apps (or i-apps) are part of this movement, collecting user data (such as use patterns and settings preferences) enabling consumers to monitor their kitchen and home appliances with a simple glance at their smartphones; we have seen this with fully-automatic washing machines, floor cleaners, sous vide appliances, wine aerators, refrigerators, ovens and broilers, exhaust systems and crockpots.
An integrated kitchen
The kitchens of tomorrow will also leverage 5G, to help a smart home be more secure while consuming considerably less power. Seen as a disadvantage, most smart homes in India use a variety of connections such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and more. But companies that manufacture chips for smart devices like our crockpots and refrigerators want a more safe (given the fear that the connected home is hackable) and harmonising connection. However, in India, 5G adoption is slow, so we may have to wait and see.
But there is optimism. “Indian kitchens have evolved greatly to keep up with the times. Integrated kitchens that give a more compact experience are catching on in India, especially among NRIs who are investing in property in the country,” says Anto Thomas, commercial manager of home interior designer company, D Life.
You could even have a GPS to guide you around your own kitchen. Saakshi Jain and Rakesh Edavalath in Bengaluru founded a kitchen assistant app Zelish, which offered assistance for everything from searching for recipes to sourcing ingredients, tracking groceries and automating shopping lists. The app even takes the user’s nutritional needs and preferences into account.
The app was recently acquired by Canada-based Tiny Chef, an AI-integrated voice-first platform that merges technology with daily kitchen needs such as planning, shopping and cooking. Launched in India in 2019 with chef Sanjeev Kapoor joining in, it has over 1,20,000 monthly users in India now, according to its spokesperson.
“Most often, it is not the cooking that people find difficult, but the planning around it,” says Saakshi, who is now the global chief marketing officer of Tiny Chef. “Almost everyone who has handled a kitchen at some point would have had to deal with the problem of over-ordering groceries that seemed to disappear into a black hole. At least 6.4 million worth of groceries go to waste in India,” she adds.
When tech entrepreneur Bahubali Shete and his wife Asha Shete launched Tiny Chef in Canada in 2017, the idea was to revolutionise the kitchen experience by making recipes accessible on Alexa devices and Google Home. Connecting the app to smart speakers, one would not have to look at the phone while cooking. The user could ask to be assisted through every step of a dish. If he or she ran out of an ingredient, Alexa could be asked to add it to the shopping cart. The response from the Indian market has been extremely encouraging, they say.
One of its features include an option where one can record a family member’s voice. A treasured family recipe is thus digitally documented and gets added to a user’s private collection, which can be further shared with other users. This would be recommended by Alexa to those users who have been given access to that recipe.
One could even prepare restaurant-style grilled foods at home with the smart tandoor, which unlike the bulky traditional tandoor, is compact, light-weight and fits into the scheme of a smart kitchen. Wellberg’s smart tandoor comes with an auto-timer and auto-temperature control options where as Wonderchef’s ‘gas oven tandoor’ works as a tandoor as well as an oven and can make anything from cakes to kebabs.
Smart appliances such as kitchen robot, Thermomix, which does everything from blending to cooking, chopping and kneading has found more takers since its launch in India in 2017. While in the initial days, the enquiries came from professional chefs and hotels, now there are more enquiries from households across the country, says Yogesh Mathur, the marketing manager of Pocket Kitchen LLP, Bengaluru, the dealers of Thermomix in India.
Old with the new
It is not only the young that are making their kitchens smart, says Chennai-based cookbook author, social worker and food researcher Sabita Radhakrishna. “For the elderly living alone, technology has been a game changer. I am a traditionalist when it comes to cooking. I still have 100-year-old kadais and kalchattis that are perfectly functional, handed down to me by my mother. But I also embrace technology. I have now moved my office to the dining table, so my soundless electric cooker does make things a lot easier for me,” she says.
While smart appliances are available in India, the prices start from ₹5,000 upwards. A few prefer making their existing home appliances smart. “Even if it is a simple function such as hard boiling an egg, 12 minutes saved is one chore less,” says Aneez Ahamed, who uses a smart egg boiler at his home in Hyderabad. Working as a software project manager, he loves automation and is constantly working to make his appliances smart.
Smart plugs, which can be bought online for less than ₹1,000, allow users to automate any wired home appliance with an on/off switch. The ‘smart’ appliance can then be controlled by your mobile phone or a voice command, says Aneez.
With Artificial Intelligence here to stay, even in our kitchens, we wonder where the smart movement is headed next.