Those of us with memories of 1950’s kitchens may remember pressure cookers: a heavy metal pot with a rubber gasket that we were always told was a bomb and a really good way of killing vegetables. I have not seen a pressure cooker in an American kitchen for 30 years. Even my foodie royalty friends don’t have one. And unless you took Home Economics in the 1950s or 1960s, you probably have no idea how this supposedly dangerous appliance works.
Yet across the developing world, it is a primary tool of kitchen liberation. The old bomb we feared, as stories of exploding pea soup splattering grandma’s kitchen wallpaper, has been re-engineered. Pressure cookers are widely available in Walmart and on Amazon.com, in all varieties.
The principle of the pressure cooker is simple. In a compressed environment, water vapor, or steam, can be raised to very high temperatures without burning its ingredients. The steam is forced through the food, cooking it cleanly and quickly with no loss of flavor or nutrition. Thus, you can put a cup of water and three potatoes in a pressure cooker, and seven minutes later, you are eating spuds. Brown rice doesn’t take an hour; it cooks in 15 minutes.
In any cuisine that is based on legumes and grains, from hummus in the Middle East to dahl in India, cooking has traditionally tied women to the kitchen for hours every day. Even if basic staples are made once or twice a week, the preparation and cooking time involved often precludes a woman who is caring for a family the ability to also hold down a full-time job. A good pot of beans can take two to four hours to cook; having a pressure cooker can cut weekly meal prep times by more than half.
Styles and sizes vary too. Across the Middle East and India, a middle class kitchen has multiple types of pressure cookers: small ones, big ones, even multi-layered ones to allow a multitude of foods to cook separately in the same pot. Because it uses less fuel than the traditional simmer cooking style, it helps with expenses and also makes for a cooler kitchen, and more pleasant cooking experience.
This breathtakingly efficient device has done more to liberate and empower emerging market women than any other appliance in the past 20 years. Indian cookbooks are filled with references to the number of whistles cooking a meal requires, referring to the number of times the cooker reaches it maximum temperature and the safety valve releases steam (or whistles). Potatoes might need two whistles; lentils four; and black beans, six whistles. The first whistle may take two or three minutes, each subsequent whistle takes fewer. You can do the simple math on cooking times.
The re-birth of the pressure cooker is another example of emerging market innovation. LG, the Korean consumer electronics manufacturer, has recently launched a mini washing machine. It hangs on the wall over a toilet and is connected to water and waste lines. It is the size of a hat-box and can take care of a day’s dirty laundry. No, it can’t wash a king-size comforter or six bath towels, but for a working woman, or for any traveler, it is quick, easy and effective. It fits into a small space without intruding, and the installation is relatively simple. I want one for every hotel room I occupy. It would make traveling with carry-on luggage even more viable.
Women remain one of the critical bellwethers on technologic adaptation. Their thought processing is not about a product’s speed or internal function, but rather its impact on quality, and ease of life. Don’t tell her what it is; tell her what it does and how it could make her life easier, safer, cleaner, better.
All across the hardlines retail world, whether brick-and-mortar, or online, we see egregious mistakes in how products and entire product lines are marketed and presented for sale. It is not the speed of a microprocessor that makes a computer what it is; it is a computer designed for people as a tool to communicate, share and search—to find solutions by crunching or cruising large databases of information quickly and effectively. The overriding virtue of laptops and tablets for women, students, business people, and travelers, is that they are powerful enough yet light enough to tote back and forth to work or school. The pixel count for any camera selling for less than $300 is useless for almost any customer. She wants to be able to take good pictures and store them safely. The bandwidth of a mobile phone is less important than the value of being able to reach her family reliably, and in emerging economies, to be connected to healthcare treatment.
The military may buy technology, but in 2012, the consumer is buying appliances. Will the pressure cooker make a re-entry into the American Kitchen? I’m interested. Give it a try. No pressure.