TRIZ in the Kitchen

By: Dr Graham Rawlinson

 

It may be a sign of the times but it seems in the UK that if you want to become famous very quickly then making a few amazing meals is a good route.

With this is mind, maybe TRIZ can help some of us become more innovative?

A good place to start with such an open topic as how can TRIZ be used in the kitchen (rather than how can I scramble an egg better) is to list resources.

We could list hundreds so for the point of this article letís keep it to a few and list some of their features or parameters:

Knife - length, sharpness, edge pattern, edge pattern uniformity, edge shape, cross sectional shape, cross sectional uniformity, blade rigidity, blade surface texture, handle shape, handle flexibility, colour, heat conductivity, electrical conductivity

Spoon - length, cup shape, handle shape, handle rigidity, colour, texture, cup size, handle length, cup absorption rate, handle absorption rate, handle heat conductivity, handle electrical conductivity,

Pan - heat conductivity, inner surface texture, outer surface texture, handle heat conductivity, handle electrical conductivity, lid heat conductivity, lid transparency, pan transparency, volume, overall shape, base shape, base texture, base size

Cooker hob - temperature profile, temperature rate change, texture, size, height, colour

It would, for a proper TRIZ job, be worth looking into such things as cupboards, floors, doors, storage devices, lighting, heating, cooling devices etc. But for this paper I want to become famous for something new in the food line so I will stick to the most immediate objects and the foods I can use.

Just as Altshuller found that people stored patents according to the devices they were attached to, so food has become attached to people places and times without opening up a mind set of whether anything is possible with anything.

In the UKís New Scientist (28th July 2001) there is a timely article about breaking flavour rules. Heston Blumenthal has a Michelin starred (that is pretty good for those not in the know) restaurant and he has a passion for physics as well as being Master Chef! And he is working with a polymer physicist at Bristol University to work out what the molecules are doing. Sure ground for TRIZ here I think.

Experimental? Well, how about Green mustard ice cream with Gazpacho sauce made from red cabbage!

One area for TRIZ could be temperature control. A lot of foods are very different according to how quickly or slowly you heat or cool them. If you cook scrambled eggs really really slowly for example, (and I do mean slow) the colour is much yellower and the taste much closed to the soft boiled egg taste (i.e. much richer).

Blumenthal notes that ice cream is not thermodynamically stable and that ice cream crystals do not like being small!

So letís continue with our short list of Resources in the kitchen for a while:

Water - phase, temperature, volume, temperature uniformity, dissolved gas content, turbulence, flow pattern, flow rate, flow uniformity,

Air - temperature, flow, temperature uniformity, flow uniformity, pressure, pressure uniformity,

Spices - size of granules, chemical constituency, heat conductivity, catalytic ability, granule weight, number of granules per unit volume,

Cream - phase, temperature, volume, temperature uniformity, dissolved gas content, flow pattern, flow rate, flow uniformity.

Functionality

Having had some first thoughts about the resources in the kitchen, and decided on some starting ideas about what we would like to do (create a new food product) we can then think about the functionality of food production.

There seem to be only a few basic functions in food preparation.

We: move things around so as to mix them

We mix them either so they are mixed or so they are the same temperature or so that the food will change state uniformly by reaching and staying at a decided temperature.

We heat food and we let it cool

We heat food and let it cool to assist in changes in state, to kill off harmful germs, to provide a more amenable temperature for consumption.

We move and position things so that they are in the right position to look good or to eat.

Movement functionality is either self actuated (liquids self mixing because they are being heated) or we use a device (usually a spoon).

Heating functionality is provided either through direct conductivity (contact with a dish or pan) or more usually, (at least to some small degree) through a liquid or gas. Thus a frying pan usually has some oil in it and an oven dish is likely to be coated with something that forms a liquid barrier.

This simple analysis of functionality will easily suggest to TRIZ folk that we are not seeing a lot of multi-functionality exploited here.

If we want more control of the temperature of food then why are we not using more effectively the mixing instruments? My mixing spoon or fork could have a heating element in it, or it could have more immediate contact with the pan (a roller attached to keep heat flowing into the spoon?). For ice cream of course I would want some kind of internal refrigeration unit in the spoon.

If I did not want to be that complicated I might start using some TRIZ Principles, so that I might have a nesting device, a hot plug into my spoon handle, which I replace from time to time. The plugs could all be heated to a precise temperature, which is the temperature that I want to heat the eggs to for example. Or they could have Ice inserts, easily created in the fridge!

Self service might suggest that if I am mixing a liquid and some solids or pastes then I might pre-heat some of the liquids so that I can control the temperature more effectively.

And all this suggests that in my new kitchen I am going to have a host of heating and cooling devices laid out for easy reach and use. I can have some shelves which are warmed or cooled to different temperatures, I can have some radiant heat sources which can be directed or diffused, and I can have some electrical gadgets for moving and heating or both.

And if we think more openly we might want to consider more variation in some of the basic rules which seem to apply. Baked Alaska canít be the only non-uniform temperature food product to try.

Summary

TRIZ has so much potential in the kitchen that we should see some really novel TRIZ food products out soon! Certainly I use TRIZ from time to time to think about safety issues (from food hygiene to cut and burn risk) and efficiency (moving, cleaning, storing). Soon I am going to use TRIZ to redesign my kitchen entirely. I welcome some thoughts people have had on kitchen design!

We should take care when using TRIZ for novel foods as there are some dangerous materials out there and some nasty bugs to go with them, of course. But provided we take sensible precautions I think we can get away from pre-conceived rules about what might go with what, and how to cook, mix and cool food products. My storage of foods has changed in the same way that TRIZ changes storage of knowledge. Cupboards have liquids or solids, and the solids are divided into pastes, granules, and other categories according to size of segmentation! This was it is much easier to be open to thinking of using anything in a section rather than a preconceived item from some prior use.

So, have fun, try some new ideas, and happy and healthy eating to you all!