Food Tech at SXSW: Smart Tea and Space Pizza

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Food Tech at SXSW: Smart Tea and Space Pizza

SXSW interactive is a massive gathering of exciting new technology. Technology has a great impact on the world around us, from the planets we may visit to the food on our plates. Food technology could lead to changes, large and small in the way we approach our food.

Here are some of the companies at SXSW that are using technology to change food:


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At the SXSW Interactive trade show, in a booth right beside the NASA booth, is the booth for Bee Hex, a 3D printer for food. There, I spoke to Ben Feltner, legal counsel for Bee Hex and he explained some of what their company is doing.

Ben spoke highly of the creative intellect of Anjan Contractor. He invented the demo version of the 3D food printer that NASA adopted and plan on taking to the Mars Mission. One of the critical issues that NASA faced was how to rehydrate their dehydrated food in a palatable form.

Anjan provided the solution in the form of a 3D printer. The printer could rehydrate the food in a form that the astronauts would be comfortable with. He won an award and grant to develop this even further, but that funding was cut. The printer will still be going up to space, but not with the further development that Anjan wanted for it.

Anjan went off and created his own company to take his dream to the next level. He developed a pneumatic extruder that solved the consistency problem. Previously there was only a certain type of consistency that was available for extrusion. His developments allowed for extrusions of multiple consistencies, “as thick as mozzarella cheese or as thin as water.” As soon as extrusion ceases, the machine holds the fluid with perfection.

Meanwhile at the trade show the printer is humming along and printing tiny pizzas shaped like Texas. They smell good, but we are not allowed to try them because of legal regulations surrounding food samplings. There a large crowd has gathered and they are snapping pictures and gazing in wonder.

But soon this “space pizza” as it is affectionately named, will be available to the public. If you back them Kickstarter, you can order your own 3D printed pizza that will be mailed to you in frozen form. They plan on making the printers available for events in places all over the world where people may be amused by this novelty.

Safe Catch

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The Mad Hatter is so named for their seemingly irrational behavior that was associated with hatters in a time period when many hatters may have had mercury poisoning from the materials they worked with. Mercury is a neurotoxin which could have very damaging effects.

Safe Catch works to stop that. Safe catch is marketed as an extremely mercury free canned tuna. I spoke with Sean Wittenberg about their innovations. Apparently the product was inspired by an article in a women’s magazine about “how pregnant women in particular couldn’t eat fish because of the risk of being exposed to mercury.”

This inspired a mission to develop a more advanced mercury test that could work “in real time” and allow for tuna made from virtually mercury free tuna. They “developed a machine that can take a small tissue sample and in relatively real time tell you exact mercury concentrations.” The fish is tested and only if it reaches approval, is it canned.

The technology has been verified by the California Attorney General’s office in conjunction with the FDA and is sensitive to almost one part per billion. The results are canned tuna has 10 times less mercury than the minimum standards set by the FDA. That’s ten times safer from a mercury avoidance perspective.

The tuna is hand cut and put into BPA free cans that are then sealed and cooked with the fish in their own natural oils. They are cooked with precise algorithm “looking at the optimum temperature and time to provide the richest flavor.” That’s some high tech tuna.


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The cup of tea seem like a simple sort of things. But what if you had a machine that could use data from the network automatically brew the perfect cup of tea? Teforia claims to do just that.

Teforia was set up at the SXSW Trade show in the Austin demonstrating their intelligent tea machine. It uses Intel Edison technology to give the machine a “learning component” so it can actually get to know the tea drinker and their preferences. It is a smart device with a companion app. The machine works with the app because it is both WiFi and Bluetooth enabled.

There is an RFID reader in the machine and it pairs with the RFID chipped tea packages that hold loose tea and are sold for the machine. When the tea packages are scanned, the machine knows exactly how to brew the tea. If the tea is just loose leaf then you measure the tea out and use the app to decide brewing details. The app will answer some basic questions to figure out what type of tea is being brewed then pull a recipe from the database to match.

The machine also allows you to lower the caffeine levels. You can save any particular recipes for tea that you like, and the more tea you drink the more the machine learns about your preferences. This may lead to the perfect cup of tea.

The Wand

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For centuries, people have enjoyed wine relaxing beverage to accompany a meal, a celebration, or really any occasion at all. However, for some people, sulfite sensitivity can interfere with this. Sulfite sensitivity, according to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology, can cause “allergy like reactions,” most commonly asthma symptoms in those with underlying asthma.

“”The Wand offers to provide a solution to this. The Wand is a “Brita filter for wine.” Their website describes how in the process of wine-making, sulfites are used to help extend shelf life and improve consistency. In the US wines with more than 10 parts per million of sulfites are labeled, but even those not bearing that label may still contain those dreaded sulfites.

Additionally, histamines in wine may also cause problems for some people, triggering allergic reactions. Particular wines contain varying amounts of these histamines, depending on fermentation process, harvesting processes, and the environment of growth.

The Wand is a small spoon sized object that offers a solution to this problem. The wand is a filter at the end of a stick that may be swirled around in a glass of wine to reduce these histamines and sulfites. They claim their product will alleviate the symptoms that might occur in individual with sensitivities. The result are said to be a slightly smoother and rounder.

The wands are individually packaged and may be used for a single glass of wine. They will also be producing a spout type filter that will allow an entire bottle of wine to be filtered at a time. They will be available for purchase at some point in 2016.