The first lab-grown hamburger is making headlines around the world, but will a test-tube burger one day seem as mundane as a teabag? From items invented in high-tech labs to discoveries that came out of kitchen accidents, we rounded up five food-related inventions that have successfully made the transition from novelty to necessity.
1. Pots: You can’t get very far in the kitchen (or the prehistoric hearth) without them. Scientists speculate that the earliest pots — found in Japan and dating to about 15,000 B.C.E.— were used to make fish soup.
2. Teabags: According to legend (also, history), tea bags were an accidental invention: 20th century American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan used small silk bags to package loose tealeaves, but his clever customers plopped them directly into their teapots. #Americaninnovation!
3. Water filters: We can thank NASA for this one. Astronauts needed a way to make sure their water stayed bacteria-free — If you get sick in outer space, you can’t just call a doctor. Luckily for us earth-dwellers, the technology works at normal altitudes, too.
4. Can openers: Before this handy device was invented in 1858, you had to use a hammer and chisel to get at the contents of a can. You might have thought the can and the opener came as a pair, but the first cans actually preceded can openers by a good 80 years.
5. Broccoli: Broccoli might seem like one of the more boring foods, but it's actually a man-made vegetable: humans deliberately cultivated it from wild kale plants over 2,000 years ago.
And here are a few inventions that aren’t getting quite as much press as the lab-grown burger (but that we think are just as exciting):
De-caffeinating pills: I’ve always struggled with that whole “no caffeine after 5 P.M.” thing, and it seems the battle may be over. “Rutaesomn De-Caffeinating Chill Pills” claim to help you metabolize caffeine faster, so you can enjoy your afternoon coffee without worrying about losing sleep later.
A self-stirring pot: Attention, lazy chefs: A Japanese dentist has invented a pot that stirs itself. The ridges in the “Kuru-Kuru Nabe” (“Pot Round and Round”) create a whirlpool that evenly mixes ingredients as the pot heats up.
A “condiment lubricant”: From a team of mechanical engineers and nano-technologists at MIT comes “LiquiGlide”, an edible lubricant meant to facilitate the passage of sauces through tubes. These being MIT researchers, their goals are slightly loftier than saving you from having to squeeze the ketchup bottle too hard: they believe their invention could save one million tons of food from being thrown out every year.