February 20, 2007

An interesting (or alarming) article reports that researchers at Kraft foods are developing what might be called the ultimate designer drink. The colorless, tasteless liquid is filled with nano-capsules—each about 2,000 times smaller than the width of a hair—that activate when zapped with a microwave transmitter, releasing the chemicals that will turn the liquid green, say, or make it taste like blueberries, or make it caffeinated. Tune to a different frequency on the transmitter, and you can zap a different range of nano-capsules, so that the same liquid will instead be purple, taste like chocolate, and be insanely sweet. The unused nano-capsules apparently pass through one's body harmlessly (though see this article for more on that).

Of course, this technology could easily be applied to wine as well. One could zap in variable levels of tannins or acidity, turn on the aroma of boysenberries or blackberries, or dial in whatever level of sweetness one might like. In theory, with bioluminescent nano-capsules in play, you could even have a glass of Château Latour that, when appropriately zapped, would also take on an unearthly green glow.

I'm generally a tech-friendly kind of guy, but it's hard not to feel some measure of alarm at the idea of countless millions of unactivated nano-capsules permeating our food chain (they do pass through the body, of course, but then where do they go? Well, out into the environment, one can only assume. Don't come crying to Kraft when you first cut into an inexplicably blackcurrant-flavored, glow-in-the-dark trout.)

More to the point, perhaps, what I wonder is ‘why?' The whole venture reminds me of those restaurant menus that appeared a while back in which you pick the ingredient, pick the cooking method, pick the condiments, and pick the sides, then wonder what on earth the chef's role is—glorified short-order cook? Cordon-Bleu-trained robot? Well, après les chefs, le déluge. Because who needs a genius like André Tchelistcheff when you can make a glass of Cabernet taste like bubblegum and cranberries all by yourself, right?

Ah, but of course the real reason why: the nano-food-business is expected to be worth $20 billion annually by 2010. Who knew the freedom to drink badly was worth so much?

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