My love for food gadgets started way before I got interested in cooking.
When I was a kid, my favorite way to spend a weekend morning was watching infomercials on TV. My favorite was the feature commercial for the Magic Bullet.
In it, husband and wife Mike and Mimi invite a group of couples into their kitchen to show them the wonders of their blender system and its ability to make smoothies, chop salsa and – apparently – invigorate marriages.
I loved the ads for everything from fancy soup ladles to the infamous Slap Chop. I even convinced my parents to buy me the Pasta Express, which was basically just a plastic tube that managed to turn spaghetti into a very al dente piece.
Today, home cooks have enthusiastically embraced the air fryer, the Instant Pot, and the Vitamix blender.
From avocado pitters to countertop composters, these devices can range from non-tech to high-tech; they can be highly specialized in one task or, like the Thermomix or the Suvie, claim to do it all. The tools promise to save us time, make us more mindful of sustainable or healthy eating, or simply produce the crispiest roast chicken.
Even though they seem trendy right now, kitchen gadgets aren’t new, just ask Corinne Mynatt.
The curator and writer is the author of Tools for Food, a book that chronicles the origins of 250 essential food gadgets like peelers, cooking forms and mortar and pestles.
“I wanted to study the design and cultural history of these tools from around the world and turn them into a beautiful book, a book that didn’t exist yet,” she says.
Mynatt says most innovations in food tools have occurred in the past 200 years, spurred on by the advent of the machine age, fairs like the Great Exhibition of 1852 in London and the general interest in mechanized technology. “That’s when you started seeing things like mechanized apple peelers and cherry pitters,” adds Mynatt.
The current version of the London exhibit may well be TikTok, where users post videos of life-changing food gadgets frequently found on Amazon.
In a recent scroll, I was introduced to a battery-powered vegetable peeler and a truly hilarious three-prong vibrating silicone tool that you place in a pan to stir for you.
After centuries of innovation, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve reached a limit to what more we can do. It all starts to border on solutionism – or solving kitchen problems that don’t actually exist.
For every hardcore fan of this or that gadget, there is an equally passionate opponent. Lara Buchar is an editor at Food Network Canada, with a strict rule about what goes into her kitchen.
“I won’t buy anything a good knife can do – like a garlic press, apple corer or egg slicer.” Buchar says she owned all of the above at one point, but noticed they were gathering dust in her cupboards. “As I became a more savvy home cook, I realized that less is more.”
This minimalist ethos is something Mynatt echoes: “I know I can do a lot with very few tools in my kitchen,” she says. But, she adds, the right, often low-tech tools can actually enhance our sensory experience of food.
“I was at the grocery store recently and noticed all these pre-shelled nuts. It made me realize how much we lose by not cracking the shells ourselves. A device that releases the rich, woody smell of a freshly revealed nut heart no longer seems so superfluous.
“The impulse to want things better and faster isn’t really new,” Buchar says. Indeed, we were spoiled with next day delivery and restaurant food that can be brought to our door with just a few taps on our smartphones.
And we want to own things that work hard – because we do. “The gadgets that seem to have the most grip on our collective consciousness are those that allow us to multitask. We are constantly expected to have more of our time, and I think these gadgets reflect that. says Buchar.
The adoption of certain kitchen utensils is also cultural. A rice cooker is essential for Buchar, who grew up in a Chinese family, while Mynatt recalls his family in France loves their slow cooker. In warmer climates, plugging in an appliance is a preferred alternative to lighting a hot stove.
In addition, certain tools make the kitchen more accessible to people living with a disability or chronic pain.
We’re all drawn to fashions – Buchar admits buying a toast stamp to carve an Eiffel Tower into his bread – but, ultimately, your gadgets should reflect your approach to cooking.
“If you make an apple pie every week, it might be worth owning an apple corer. If, like me, you make one apple pie a year, a knife will do just fine,” says Buchar.
For my mother, cooking is a lifelong chore. It’s about making cooking as efficient and painless as possible. For me, it’s a creative exercise. I can search for gadgets and gizmos that claim to make my food taste better or allow me to try out advanced techniques.
The best tools for those who love to cook are those that work in conjunction with hands-on cooking time.
“While my whole chicken is fried to crispy perfection, I can take my time making a leafy green salad, toss the dressing by hand, and slice a lovely French baguette to serve it,” says Buchar, adding that the joy of cooking It doesn’t just press a button on its trusty air fryer, “but it certainly makes that joy more accessible.”