The next big thing for the kitchen could come in a small package. Gadgets tiny and "green" were among the products turning the heads of retail buyers at the International Home and Housewares Show 2008 held in Chicago in March.
When microwaves became popular in the 1980s, countless cookbooks provided recipes for baking elaborate meals in the ovens. However, people have come to rely on microwaving more for quickly reheating coffee, popping popcorn, or disinfecting sponges rather than "nuking" entire Thanksgiving turkeys.
Enter the $150 iWave Cubed, billed as the world's smallest microwave. The 600-watt appliance takes up less than a cubic square foot of space and can heat small items such as 16-ounce coffee cups.
By 2009, its inventor, Phil Davis, aims to release a tiny toaster oven and refrigerator. He said that physical therapists have expressed interest in using the device to warm up slippers and hot packs.
Those who can't survive without espresso in the wilderness could pack this $150 Handpresso kit, perhaps the world's smallest espresso maker. Although not billed as "green," the manual gadget does work off the grid. It requires pumping a handheld, java-filled gizmo, shown snug in its case, to 16-bar pressure level (most espresso makers reach 18 bars of pressure), then pouring in piping-hot water.
If built, the KitchenSync concept would wirelessly feed recipes to this spill-proof "book." It was designed by Noah Balmer, a student at the California College of the Arts, and won second place in the show's student design contest.
The $20 Boiling Minder is built to prevent boiling pots from overflowing. The battery-operated device blows air across the water within a boiling pot to prevent steam that creates messy boilovers. The point is to free the chef to juggle other tasks without returning to a spilled mess of noodles.
More multipurpose nonstick rice makers from Asia could be found soon in U.S. stores. This digital rice cooker made by Tiger of Japan can also bake bread. Another company, Aroma, displayed a rice cooker that handles pasta too.
More compact than fabric pot holders, these silicone oven mitts are shaped like origami novelties that children fold and scribble on for fortune-telling. Have a burning question? Either the word "yes" or "no" appears depending upon which way the mitts are opened.
A backlash against chemicals used in nonstick cookware is driving the demand for pots and pans free of PFOA and PTFE, used to make liquid nonstick coatings such as Teflon. But PFOA is an environmental pollutant found in women's breast milk and even the blood of polar bears, according to scientists. The Environmental Protection Agency aims to phase out PFOA by 2015. (DuPont is working toward that end but insists that its Teflon is safe.)
These nonstick pans are coated instead with ceramic, while the utensils are packed in recycled materials. Pedrini is a division of Lifetime Brands, the conglomerate behind Cuisinart and KitchenAid.
Design Ideas' EcoGen soap dish holders and other sink-side containers are made of biodegradable plastic. The key ingredient is polymer PHBV, developed by Monsanto and similar to polypropylene. Microbes eating cornstarch sugars store the PHBV, which is removed to make a material ready for injection molding. Under the right conditions in a compost heap, the non-petroleum plastic is said to break down leaving behind water, carbon dioxide, and nontoxic biomass.
To the left are Umbra's picture frames of plantation wood, coming from sustainably farmed trees.
The Wrap-N-Mat is an alternative to disposable plastic baggies. The reusable, washable, Velcro-fastened sandwich bag opens to serve as a 13 inch square, picnic-worthy placemat. The key material is food-safe PVC, polyvinyl chloride without the harmful chloride, according to the company. The bag includes vegetable-based dyes.
Some Wrap-N-Mats are made in the United States. The company claims that its manufacturers in China follow guidelines similar to those of the Fair Trade Association.
The $130 DoughNuMatic churns out tiny doughnuts within a minute. The snacks are somewhat larger than donut holes and taste every bit as sinful, according to this writer. Alas, the machine doesn't add a gooey chocolate glaze or nutty topping automatically.
Who needs gummy bears or worms when you can make your own chewy owls or butterflies? While in operation, Toto Concepts' gummy candy maker displays the colorful sugary mix as it flows through the machine.
The Blueair ECO10 air purifier, made of recycled or biodegradable parts, is meant to protect the lungs from kitchen smoke and other irritants and allergens. Rather than using paper or glass filters that contain triclosan, an environmental pollutant, the ECO10 uses polypropylene, which is waterproof and resists bacteria and mold. Built to serve a room 20 by 15 feet, the $900 appliance runs on only 10 watts and meets Energy Star requirements.
Amcor's Wine Vault includes separate cooling zones for reds and whites. The redwood racks are preferable to slippery metal shelves, according to the company. The machine costs around $499 for 50 bottles and $1,100 for 150 bottles.
Wisdom Wands are filtered, hand-blown glass straws that enable a coffee or tea to be brewed directly inside a cup. Just add loose tea leaves or coffee grinds to a mug or glass, and sip. The $20 reusable straws are eco-friendly because they cut the waste of water and electricity while eliminating the need for disposable paper teabags or plastic straws, according to the company.