The humble knife and fork have served diners well for centuries but there are some jobs they just can't do. Ever since the Splayd blew our culinary minds (for the uninitiated, it's a spoon, fork and knife all in one), humans have been tinkering with utensils, coming up with ever more inventive ways to move food from hand to mouth.
From a spoon-fork that cleverly scoops up ramen noodles and soup at the same time to electronic chopsticks that alert you to toxic oil in your stir-fry, here is a look at some of the gadgets that could well be set to grace our tables.
The Stupendous Splendiferous ButterUp (pictured above)
It is one of those simple ideas you wish you had come up with yourself – the Stupendous Splendiferous ButterUp (only slightly OTT with the name there, guys) is the creation of Sydney design firm Design Momentum, who funded the project though Kickstarter. The campaign attracted 15,251 backers and raised $360,286 – way more than its $38,000 fund-raising goal. The design is a twist on the basic butter knife with a built-in grater. As you scrape the knife, little ribbons of soft butter appear through the holes, ready for spreading. Voila, that's one more first-world problem solved.
Din-ink pen tops
Got a nasty pen-chewing habit? Well, now you have every excuse with these pen toppers from Italian architecture and design group ZO-loft. Non-toxic and recyclable, they do exactly what they look like: transform your pens into lunch-time cutlery. Happy chewing.
Ah, the ramen spoon/fork – the Asian answer to the spork. Designed for New York's Museum of Modern Art and originally created for use in a ramen noodle chain in Japan, these spoon-fork combos twist noodles and scoop up soup at the same time. Nifty.
Here's one for data geeks. Another Kickstarter creation, the HAPIfork is designed to slow down your eating and help you eat more mindfully. An electronic monitor tracks hand-to-mouth movements and starts to flash and vibrate if it thinks you are eating too fast (that is, more than 75 times during a 20-minute meal). The data is uploaded via USB or Bluetooth to your online dashboard, but with the manual running to 32 pages it is probably not the easiest utensil to master. The fork head and handle can be removed and washed in the dishwasher but the electronic innards do not take kindly to water, so be careful when washing.
Think of them as a fountain pen for food – DecoSpoons (one large, one small) are the cheat's way of making those fancy swirls and calligraphy on your dinner plate. Available through kitchenware company Sheldon & Hammond (1800 808 971), the European-designed tools are essentially curved spoons designed to scoop up sauces, creams and vinegars. Dip the nib into the "ink well", then start decorating. Talk about pimping up your plating up.
Who hasn't bitten into a meaty morsel on a shish kebab only to realise you are sort of, well ... stuck? That meat ain't going anywhere. Shame, because food on sticks is one of the easiest ways to prepare and cook food. These stainless-steel branch skewers from Californian company NexTrend Products solve the problem of skewer-eating awkwardness. Not only can you easily wrap your mouth around each branch separately, you can also stagger your cooking times by adding ingredients as you grill. Handy.
Not content to be outdone by its Western counterparts, Chinese search engine giant Baidu has also entered the electronic fray with its Smart Chopsticks. Dip the chopsticks into food or water to test pH levels, temperature and "total polar materials" (a sign of whether potentially toxic so-called "gutter oil" has been used in the cooking). Later builds promise to detect salt and mineral content in drinking water. Originally launched as an April Fool's joke, the idea eventually turned serious and the company unveiled plans for the real thing this month. "[After] realising that not only was something like this quite timely given the recent concerns over food safety in China, but [that] it was also perfectly doable from a technology standpoint, we went ahead and built a prototype," a spokesman told goodfood.com.au. A release date has yet to be announced.
Gray Kunz spoon - limited gold edition
New York magazine has dubbed it the "ultimate chef fetish object", but there is more to this shiny spoon than its golden good looks. The Gray Kunz spoon emerged from the kitchen of the Lespinasse restaurant in New York, gaining a loyal following since going on sale 20 years ago. This gold-electroplated edition celebrates the anniversary, but don't keep it in its box – despite its delicate appearance, the spoon is safe to put in a dishwasher. The slightly tapered edge allows for precise pouring of sauces (2.5 tablespoons to be exact) and a short handle lets it rest comfortably on the hand.
Flexible cooking utensils
Use them flat to stir and scrape, then squeeze the sides to form a spoon when you are ready to serve: these flexible cooking utensils work as a spatula, slotted spoon and spaghetti scoop in one. Made from food-grade nylon and silicone, they are also heat resistant up to 200 degrees and safe to put in the dishwasher. Farewell wooden spoon, we hardly knew you.
OK, this one's not your conventional utensil but there'll be no more sneaky liquid kilojoules with this "smart cup", which dobs in every drop you gulp down. It analyses how much energy, sugar, fat, protein, salt and caffeine you are drinking, and even claims to tell the difference between similar types of beverages (including Pepsi versus Coke). The results are displayed on the cup's screen and are uploaded via Bluetooth to your mobile device. Gimmick or go-to nutritional gadget? You decide.
Correction: An earlier version of this story did not identify the design firm associated with the ButterUp. This has since been amended.