Cooking with spices can seem like a dark art. Spices, once the arcane treasure of colonial empires, have become common fixtures of countless everyday meals, but many aspiring cooks still lack a basic familiarity with them. Sprinkling pinches of expensive powders with esoteric names to achieve subtle flavor combination aren't attractive to many cooks—particularly college students, who are often shopping and cooking for themselves for the first time. For them, it's difficult to justify buying a new spice without understanding its flavor and how it's used.
But spices are the key to good cooking. For our ENGN1000 course, Mandi Cai, Arielle Chapin,Kenta Kondo, Nate Parrott and Robert Wang asked: how can we initiate college students into the world of spices, giving them a familiarity with spices that'll improve their cooking for their entire lives?
After the food is recognized, a selection of 'recipes' are made available to choose from.
Spice recommendations indicated by LEDs
Zest is a smart spice kiosk. Place your food in front of the Zest machine, and it'll automatically recognize the dish. On-screen, a list of "spice recipes" will appear — each one suggesting a unique flavor that can be created with a mix of spices. As you swipe through recipes, the required spices will light-up on the adjacent spice rack, helping you quickly enhance your food's flavor.
The ideal location of a Zest machine is a college dining hall—dining halls tend to serve conservatively-seasoned food, but college students are often open to "breaking the monotony" and seasoning their food more strongly. Zest helps students with little experience using spices get acquainted with flavors and combination of spices, giving them a baseline "spice literacy" that will help them as they begin cooking as adults.
By combining our interests in cooking, computer science, human factors, industrial design, and mechanical engineering, we created a flavor experience that we believe can change the user's perception on spice usage and spice experimentation. Zest can be easily integrated into university dining halls or any space for communal dining and can be extrapolated for use with other ingredients other than spices. For future exploration and iterations, we'd like to integrate a more powerful image recognition system trained on the specific dishes available in the dining hall that zest is stationed in. We realize that the food recognition element of zest is constrained by the capabilities of the technologies available at the current time. Our team would also explore the recipe submission aspect of zest and do more user testing with the recipe submission website to ensure its ease of use and track its popularity amongst our targeted audience.