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Robotic Taster Will Judge 'Real Thai Food' 103

HughPickens.com (3830033) writes The NYT reports that Thailand's former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra repeatedly encountered a distressing problem while traveling the world: bad Thai food. Too often, she found, the meals she sampled at Thai restaurants abroad were unworthy of the name, too bland to be called genuine Thai cooking. The problem bothered her enough to raise it at a cabinet meeting. Even though her political party has since been thrown out of office, in a May military coup, the Thai government is unveiling its project to standardize the art of Thai food using a robot. The government-financed Thai Delicious Committee, which oversaw the development of the machine, describes it as "an intelligent robot that measures smell and taste in food ingredients through sensor technology in order to measure taste like a food critic." Thailand's National Innovation Agency has spent about $100,000 to develop the e-delicious machine. The e-delicious machine has 10 sensors that measure smell and taste, generating a unique fingerprint (signature) for each sample of food that passes its digital maw. Generally with electronic tasting, there are electronic sensors that work just like the taste buds on your tongue, measuring the quantity of various taste-giving compounds, acidity, etc. While these electronic sensors can't actually tell you how something tastes — that's a very subjective, human thing — they are very good at comparing two foods scientifically. Meanwhile at a tiny food stall along one of Bangkok's traffic-clogged boulevards, Thaweekiat Nimmalairatana, questioned the necessity of a robatic taster. "I use my tongue to test if it's delicious or not," said Nimmalairatana. "I think the government should consider using a human to gauge authenticity."
Nakah Thawichawatt, who runs a business producing herbal supplements, has a vision for the machine that he says will take the next step in the digitization of our lives. The so-called e-delicious tasting machine would produce a digital signature of food at a particular restaurant. Consumers would then indicate their preferences on an app for mobile phones. The app would match consumers with their favorite tastes at other restaurants that participate in the program. "It's just like pressing 'like,' " says Thawichawatt. "You rate the food. Then we will know that you love that taste."
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Robotic Taster Will Judge 'Real Thai Food'

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  • but that doesn't mean I can distinguish thai food from vietnamese food any way but linguistically.

  • Misread (Score:3, Funny)

    by zildgulf ( 1116981 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @09:28AM (#48026529)
    I misread the phrase "Thailand's National Innovation Agency has spent about $100,000 to develop the e-delicious machine" as "Thailand's National Innovation Agency has spent about $100,000 to develop the ridiculous machine".
    • A taste bud to nowhere boondoggle

  • Not everyone else in the world dumps pounds of pepper into a dish to make it "less bland." In fact, no professional chefs do that. Anyone who does that to Gordon Ramsey on Hell's Kitchen certainly hears his opinion on it.
    • That's fine if they want to take some of the spice out to appeal to local people, but they should at least add something else to account for the lost flavour. I've been to too many Indian, Thai, and other restaurants that serve food which is very bland because they didn't add enough spice, which would be present in the traditional dish, and didn't add any additional ingredients to make it taste good. Also, there's a certain expectation that goes along with calling a dish by a specific name. If I order chic
      • Luckily I live in a city that understands spiciness. For example there are several Indian restaurants - all have great food. Then there's a Carribean restaurant near me - the jerk spicing is excellent.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        There is no flavor of spicy. Your tongue can't sense spicy. It's just a chemical that makes your mouth feel like it's on fire. People who are stupid enough to keep eating peppers stop feeling it as much and then can sort of taste the actual flavor. Otherwise peppers actually cover up the flavor. So people who like their mouth to work properly, didn't nuke all their taste buds, and like their digestive system to work properly don't add peppers to their dish in the first place.
        • There's actually some suggestions that capsaicin can actually aid digestion, and capsicum are a great source of fiber. It's obvious that you hate spicy food, but that doesn't mean that spicy food is bad food, nor does it mean that spicy food lacks flavor or nuance.
          • by Anonymous Coward
            I'm a supertaster. (Yes, that is a real thing). I like mildly spicy food. Anything actually very spicy all tastes the same to me and is extremely painful and to be avoided at all costs. There are actually a decent percentage of supertasters out there which is one reason why - when cooking for very large groups - caterers tend to make the food on the bland side. If I ordered something "Thai hot", or "Carribean spiced" or whatever - it would just taste like fire to me. I'm glad there is such a variety of food
        • People who like spicy food are stupid? I guess that writes off Thailand and most of the Indian sub-continent, along with plenty of other people.

          Seriously, I feel like this is a new low in Slashdot insults - not because it's obviously incorrect, but because it's such an unimportant and unnoticeable personal preference (at least if you were insulting someone's bad taste in fashion or grooming or art, you could complain about having to look at the result). Really, I'm stupid because of the food that I like?

          • I think the implied assertion was that people who think spicy = flavor are morons.

            In other words, just cause it burns more doesn't mean it tastes better.

    • Gordon Ramsey is not a culinary genius. I think you miss the whole point of the shows if you get that idea. He's a business chef and his goal is to make money, not to make food necessarily taste great. Often times a chef has to cut quality to make a profit, so good and great are two very different things.

      It does not take pounds of pepper (implying black pepper) to make something hot. If you would have said "peppers" I'd agree with the you, since the best heat in food comes from various chili peppers. V

      • Gordon Ramsey is not a culinary genius. I think you miss the whole point of the shows if you get that idea. He's a business chef and his goal is to make money, not to make food necessarily taste great.

        Except, you don't get Michelin stars just for nothing. He trained under Michelin star chefs.

        He's turned that into a lot of restaurants, a lot of money, and a lot of fame.

        You may or may not like Ramsey (not everybody does, and that's fair), but if you think he's "just a business chef" out to make money, you're

        • by s.petry ( 762400 )

          Whether I like him or not does not make any difference to my point. His fame is due primarily to being a very savvy business person, not because any dish he touches tastes like gold (sorry, I can't come up with a universally acceptable flavor analogy for "awesome").

          You mistakenly took my comment as an attack, and that is far from the truth. Chefs are certainly in two categories, and finding pairs working together yields 5 Star dining establishments. The first kind of Chef is the artist, that is the guy t

    • Well if Gordon Ramsey does it, that must be definitive. He has, after all, opened several well regarded Thai restaurants before. Oh wait, he didn't. Perhaps you should recognize that different cultures have different perspectives on food, and that that diversity is what makes eating food from different cultures interesting.
      • by Minwee ( 522556 )

        Perhaps you should recognize that different cultures have different perspectives on food, and that that diversity is what makes eating food from different cultures interesting.

        Or, instead, you could develop a robot which will allow you to enforce your own personal culinary tastes on people all over the world.

    • It may be my imagination or something, but I've noticed that a number of foods that I like have a better taste when they are also spicy hot. Is it possible that capsicacin oil acts in a similiar way to salt in enhancing flavors? For example I order pad thai mild for my children and hot for myself. On occasion I'll eat their leftovers for lunch and it always seems that the flavor isn't nearly as strong as mine was.

      • See what's happening here is your brain and your tongue are broken. Peppers developed a do-not-eat-me defense of making them burn your mouth so you wouldn't eat them. All animals including moderately intelligent apes stay away from peppers because of this but not you. You should have your brain checked out.
        • Actually, only an irritant for mammals. Birds can consume it just fine. We are also pretty much unique amongst mammals in consuming milk and derivative products past infancy. Does anyone that likes cheese need their brain checked too?
    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Thai food is known for its balance of flavours. It's a delicate balance of a minimum of 2 (but usualy 4) of spicy, sweet, bitter, salty and sour in a dish.

      It's also VERY easy to screw up.

      As an aside, Jet Tila was appointed the Culinary Ambassador to Thailand [laweekly.com] for his role as a guide to Thai cuisine. (People from LA and Food Network viewers will recognize the name for he's had numerous appearances on various shows).

      I guess we'll have a new Food Network special - Jet Tila vs. this machine.

    • As if Gordon Ramsey could cook...

  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @09:31AM (#48026551)
    I would no more call this a robot than I would call an xray machine a robotic innards examiner or a smoke detector a robot fireman's nose.

    I would call it a robot if it wandered the streets of Bangkok smelling for the most Thai food and recording on a map where it found it.
    • by gnupun ( 752725 )
      Can't they simply hire some thai cuisine experts to taste and certify that a restaurant is up to standards (something like "XYZ restaurant is certified by the govt. of thailand taste testers") instead of building a (pie-in-the-sky) machine? Other countries could should probably do the same.
  • by Translation Error ( 1176675 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @09:32AM (#48026553)

    "I use my tongue to test if it's delicious or not," said Nimmalairatana. "I think the government should consider using a human to gauge authenticity."

    I don't know... Being a taste tester for Thai food sounds like a good way to suffer severe burnout.

    • Re:Thai Tasting (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:30AM (#48026993) Homepage

      While I personally see a device like this (sorry... ROBOT!) of rather limited use for testing prepared dishes, I can see great utility for it for testing ingredients. You could have a standardized, unambiguous way to rate the quality or at least properties of a given product, be it meat, fruit, vegetables, etc. I bet cultivar breeding programs in particular could really benefit from this - "Well, I was hoping that this new mango would be a huge innovation, but actually it's almost identical to a Keitt. Though to be fair its mouthfeel is somewhat like a Carrie, and it does have a small amount of a new novel aromatic compound..." Just a single mass produced sensor package that measures a wide range of different properties at once in a repeatable, universal manner. If such a thing could become widespread, I'd bet half of the "cultivars" out there would pretty much disappear, having been shown to be essentially identical to others.

      • Re:Thai Tasting (Score:4, Interesting)

        by plover ( 150551 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:52AM (#48027197) Homepage Journal

        I definitely agree there is value in testing the ingredients. The strength of peppers varies widely based on their growing conditions, and it would be good to avoid making a dish too hot or too bland.

        I can also see using this automated taster to evaluate how a hybrid produces year over year, how the fruit of different parents crossed to produce the same hybrid compares to the original hybrid, or how the taste may vary from field to field. That's when it could be more useful to quantify the difference from the "standard".

        But I think when you're hybridizing you'd still want a human doing the evaluation. It's a new thing, and quantifying taste of a new thing isn't as important as the perception of the taster.

  • So what? It's not like people around the world will become good cooks after this. It almost seems like prank news... and a total waste of money.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile, typos and poor editing still done by a drunk marmoset.

    • Meanwhile, typos and poor editing still done by a drunk marmoset.

      No, wait. A drunk marmoset would actually be a significant upgrade. Give it a chance!.

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @09:43AM (#48026627)

    Asian restaurants in the US cater to what they the think the US public wants to consume and not what is "authentic" to their cuisine. While which probably makes for good economic sense, doesn't make for the best food experience. (As an extreme, Imagine how the local asian family restaurant in the US having a plate of fried chicken heads on its menu would fare).

    But these restaurants are so ingrained with this practice that even if you go into a Thai restaurant and ask for the dish to be "Thai-hot", they'll ask if "you are sure about that?" and still dial it back to something that is only middling spicy.

    So while I can agree with the sentiment of the TFA, it win;t going to happen. If anything its really just the new heads of Thailand flexing their muscles to show that their coup d'etat is the best thing for the country.

    • I don't really see the percentage in making something too spicy, I mean why not just eat the spices alone, you'll get the same flavour. On a related note I know a Thai woman who does exactly that, even keeps a box of antacids on hand while doing so.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Asian restaurants in the US cater to what they the think the US public wants to consume and not what is "authentic" to their cuisine. While which probably makes for good economic sense, doesn't make for the best food experience. (As an extreme, Imagine how the local asian family restaurant in the US having a plate of fried chicken heads on its menu would fare).

      I don't think you realize what is available in restaurants in the US. I live within walking distance from the "Chinatown" of one of the largest metro areas in the US and I assure you that there are plenty of restaurants with dead animals hanging in the windows, menus that don't have a single word of English on them and a staff of workers that don't speak a word of English either. They have plenty of customers that from visual and auditory clues you might describe as "immigrants" but also plenty of "Americ

    • by Translation Error ( 1176675 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:18AM (#48026897)
      The offerings of ethnic restaurants in foreign countries are often adapted to better suit the tastes of the local people. Look at Chinese food in the US--it's quite different from what you'd get in China. Then look at Chinese food in Japan--it's different from both of the above. Or just look at pizza in Italy, multiple regions of the US, and Japan.
      • Not only that, but keep in mind that some immigrant cultures have been in the U.S. for a long time, and their cooking styles may drift over time. Chinese-American cuisine has been around for over 150 years, and allegedly is much more similar to native Chinese cooking from 150 years ago that to today's native Chinese cooking.

        Anecdotally, I have found that Vietnamese-American food, which is a much more recent cuisine style than Chinese-American, is relatively similar to native Vietnamese, with decreased spic

    • If anything its really just the new heads of Thailand flexing their muscles to show that their coup d'etat is the best thing for the country.

      I guess you didn't make it all the way through the first sentence where it says this is the FORMER prime minister.

  • by HnT ( 306652 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:03AM (#48026749)

    It's a given that Thai food is amongst the most delicious cuisines in the world so you only need to find the right place to eat! These two simple points should help:

    1. Are you in Thailand? Many places around the world come close but it's never quite the same.

    2. Is it packed full with locals with just enough space to squeeze in? If the place is packed full you can be sure it is great and this goes for small food stalls just as much as for nice restaurants! Thai people are passionate about food and eat out a lot so the good places will be very full; better stay away from the empty ones.

    This is all you really need and you can be 98% certain before even having tried the food! chok dee krub!

    • Most everybody loves food, regardless of what culture they come form. And just because someone is genetically linked to one culture doesn't mean that they are predisposed to favor that cultures foods over another. I can't tell you how many times I've met people who were the first generation of their family raised in the US, and when asked about their favorite foods it was all generic American stuff. Whatever their Mother cooked for them growing up, no matter how amazing to someone else, was just the norm fo

  • A robot programmed to eliminate "unpure" food based on the standards set by a bunch of critics. In their arrogance the critics will have provided standards of purity that no food can match, and the robot will go wild, destroying all food everywhere.

    Of course given that the end is inevitable, i for one welcome our new robotic food tasting overlords.
  • by Gim Tom ( 716904 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:48AM (#48027145)
    I lived in North Eastern Thailand for a year decades ago and had some wonderful food while I was there, but it was almost never EXACTLY what the Thais in the area ate. Most westerners could not, or would not, eat the "REAL" Thai food. It wasn't just the spices, although they were far too hot for most people. The types of food and the way they were stored and prepared was just an entirely different culture and what is and is not food is to some extent determined by culture.

    I saw a giant Mekong catfish lay on the side of the road for at least three or four days before it was considered "ripe" enough to use in food. When I was there refrigeration was rare and most food sat out in heat and humidity for extended periods. The climate was even a bit more that I was used to -- and I was born and raised in the deep south before air conditioning was common. The aroma of a Thai open air market is to say the least unique. Thailand is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and the people are the friendliest and most open anywhere, but eating "real" Thai food is something I was never able to really appreciate.

    There are places I have eaten in the US that have excellent Thai food, but it is not what you find the Thai's eating in Thailand. Maybe Anthony Bourdain can eat real Thai food, but on a recent episode of his show it appeared that even he was having a bit of trouble with some of it.
    • by jrumney ( 197329 )

      You do realise that Thailand may have developed over the past decades, and that North-East Thailand may not be representative of the rest of the country, don't you?

      Personally I think you're more likely to pick up diseases eating in "clean" hotels and chain restaurants staffed by poorly trained teenagers than a roadside stall run by an elderly couple whose livelihoods have depended on not poisoning their customers for decades. If you're spending a year in a country, you're going to have to get used to the l

      • by Gim Tom ( 716904 )
        Point Taken, and I do love independent non-chain eateries. Everything has become too generic and "safe" anyway.

        Yes, I know that everything has changed in 40+ years. I was there in 1971 and 1972 and it was a different world and a different place then. Also I was aware even then that the foods used and preparation varied widely around the country. Where I was was right on the border with Laos and there was much overlap between the Thai and Laotian foods. Even the ubiquitous Khao Phat fried rice varie
    • by HnT ( 306652 )

      I hate to spell this out like that but you have to realize that North Eastern Thailand is the hottest, most rural, poorest and generally most "backwards" part in the whole country... it is not mere coincidence that an overwhelming number of Thai-farang marriages are with Isaan girls and yes, they have some rather strange customs and ways there but this does not apply to all of Thailand. Real NorthEastern food is not for the faint of heart but there are so many different really real Thai dishes from differen

  • That's no real Thai! It's a robot.

  • The trials of another tasting robot: http://youtu.be/B_m17HK97M8 [youtu.be]
  • by SpaghettiPattern ( 609814 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @11:17AM (#48027429)
    What bugs me most about Thai food imitations is bad taste and cheap surrogates. The wost offenders IMHO are Chinese cooks pretending to. Corn starch with water an coconut flavour DOES NOT replace coconut milk. Never, ever!
  • There's actually a restaurant in my town which reportedly is run, or subsidized somehow, by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. So I guess I'm not too surprised they focus this much on something cuisine-related...
  • There is a meme tied up with Thai food, that there is OneTrue way of doing it, and all other ways are wrong. All my life I've heard Thai food, good or bad, insulted by being called inauthentic. It's done by people all over the world, all you have to do is take a single trip to Thailand, or even meet someone who once went, and you too can be the judge of what is and what is not Authentic. I eat at restaurants with thai chefs, cooking thai recipes, that are delicious. If someone thinks that the ratio of l
    • This.

      My mother makes an awesome Mac n' Cheese. She doesn't do anything fancy that I know of, but it tastes better than any other Mac n' Cheese I've had.

      That's not to say that nobody else makes authentic Mac n' Cheese, but I just prefer my mother's. .. I should call my mother and have her make me some Mac n' Cheese next time she visits.

  • Nevermind the military coup, the rampant government sanctioned underaged sex trade, the sky high rate of AIDS in the country...

    Let's spend $100,000 on a machine to help settle a food authenticity debate.

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