x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Cooking at home: there's an app for that

The five most interesting food apps that you should be downloading and using immediately.

Illustration by Alex Belman
Illustration by Alex Belman

The problem with all the technological helpers now available for the kitchen is that you just can’t get away with being a rubbish cook anymore. With so many apps and programmes for smartphones and tablets around, even the sort of person who could burn water can have their hand held through every step of making a meal. Now, a new breed of apps is taking things yet further, moving on from cooking skills to household management. Your devices can now make sure you keep track of all the food you buy and help you create interesting meals out of even the dullest of store cupboard ingredients. If you want your phone or computer to take the strain of meal planning and cooking off your shoulders, fancy introducing a social networking element to your food shopping or just want some new recipe ideas, here is a round-up of the latest technical kitchen helpers to hit the market.

FoodShareFilter

(iPhone and Android: $0.99 from Apple, $1.16 from Google Play)

Instagram has been bursting with candid snaps of people’s restaurant meals for some time already, so much so that some New York dining spots have taken to banning amateur food photographers from their premises. The socially conscious designed app FoodShareFilter, designed by the Spanish NGO Manos Unidos, might just turn the tide and make Instagramming your food cool again. The app has found a way of teasing a bit of charitable money and social consciousness out of this display of gluttony. All proceeds from downloading the app go to a sustainable agriculture programme based in El Salvador, while any Instagram photo with the hashtag #foodsharefilter attached gets book-ended with the caption “This picture helps millions of people not to suffer hunger”. So far, most FoodShareFilter users are Spanish speakers, but an English version has also been released. Get it here

Grocery Hero

(free for Android,
$1.99 for iPhone and iPad)

Do you open your fridge to find old salad leaves turned to sludge and out-of-date meat greying at the edges? If so, you’re not alone. According to the new app Grocery Hero, American households buy and then throw away an unpardonable $180 billion (Dh660bn) worth of food every year. Trying to beat those figures down a bit, the app helps users combat waste in their own lives in a fairly straightforward way. Whenever you go to the supermarket, you simply scan your purchases in via their bar codes and the app will warn you via a phone alert when these items are getting close to their use-by date. The app offers more constructive advice than just badgering you to go home and eat your groceries, however. It also has a huge database of recipes gleaned from across the internet and will send you suggestions tailored to what you have lying around. Get it here

Fridgepal

(free for iPhone and iPad)

This sophisticated app is basically a social networking-friendly take on the same problems Grocery Hero addresses. Like the previous app, you can also scan bar codes to keep an up-to-date fridge inventory (while you can also type in items – handy if you’re buying bar-code-free produce). It likewise offers recipe suggestions and contains a meal calendar advising you what to eat and when. Its particular feature is that it also allows users to create and share grocery lists – a little geeky for some, perhaps, but useful for couples who both shop or for friends following diets together. Get it here

Panna

(free for first trial download for iPad, $4.99 thereafter, Android version coming soon)

While there are umpteen recipe apps out there nowadays, few are as reliable and beautifully presented as Panna, a bimonthly digital cookery magazine created for iPads and smartphones. Every other month, Panna releases 13 delicious, well-filmed videos showing you how to create seasonal recipes. Panna’s roster of chefs is pretty impressive, too – and US based, it includes Rick Bayless, the Chicago chef largely responsible for introducing gourmet Mexican food to Anglo audiences. The slight downside of this American provenance for people used to weight measuring is that the measurements used are also US – expect cups rather than grams. Likewise, some ingredients aren’t entirely Middle East-friendly: in the sunny Emirates, no one has much need for ingredients for wintry ingredients such as kale, which feature at times. Panna is still worth downloading, though, both for people who prefer blow-by-blow directions and for cooks looking for dishes with a little more finesse. Get it here

Olive Magazine

(free for iPhone and iPad)

Internet recipe searches are great, but with little quality control, there’s not always much of a filter on your results. Following an iPad-friendly online magazine such as the BBC-linked Olive is a good alternative, as content has been a little more thoroughly edited and thought-through. The magazine offers dependable, cost-conscious recipes that are clearly and attractively laid out, though as is often the case with English-language media, the magazine’s winter editions can bring up recipes that are a little on the heavy side for the UAE. Get it here

And for something completely different …

In the constant struggle for hybrid tech products to find new sections of the market to corner, it was only a matter of time before someone made a tablet computer that was also a kitchen tool. That’s just what The Almighty Board is – a tablet that streams recipe videos and also functions as weighing scales and a chopping board. It’s a novel idea, though all that chopped food might get in the way of the images. If you like a seamless tidy space to cook in, you can go for the counter-embedded option of the Prisma Smart Kitchen. A widescreen TV-sized unit, it acts as a control centre for your whole kitchen, displaying hob and fridge temperatures, offering kitchen cupboard controls, a chopping board and a sink while, like the Almighty Board, it also streams recipes and allows you to surf the net. And don’t worry – while letting a computer get wet might run counter to all intuition, both units are entirely waterproof.