Air Up launched within the U.Okay. in 2019, turning worthwhile in its first two years. Spurred by traders like PepsiCo and Ashton Kutcher, the model is now launching within the U.S. with 10 flavors, together with watermelon, peach, and mango-passion fruit. The design has a couple of shortcomings, specifically the usage of nonrecyclable pods which have to get replaced after about seven water bottle refills. But the sensory expertise, which continues to baffle me, highlights the large potential for meals and beverage containers to faucet into our sense of scent.
With millions of odor receptors, the nostril performs a key function in how we expertise meals and drinks. Why aren’t we designing for that?
Deception by design
Air Up was born on the premise that the human physique craves taste, and taste usually comes with components which are unhealthy for you. “What if we may create taste that doesn’t include all of the damaging components,” says Lena Jüngst, a product designer and cofounder of Air Up.
Here’s the way it works. When you sip from the bottle’s straw, you suck in water and scented air, which travels to your olfactory middle in the back of your mouth, the place the mind perceives the scent as taste. This is named retronasal taste notion, and it’s answerable for each single taste profile that doesn’t fall underneath the 5 tastes your tongue can understand—suppose candy, salty, bitter, bitter, and umami (which will be tasted in your tongue) versus extra complicated taste profiles like chocolaty, floral, fruity, creamy (that are perceived by the nostril).
For it to essentially work, you must suck on Air Up’s mouthpiece as a substitute of tilting the bottle, which makes for an uncommon expertise as bubbles find yourself forming with each sip. To nudge customers into utilizing it correctly, Jüngst’s crew designed the bottle with a dip on the prime suggesting the proper angle.
The actual trick, nevertheless, lies within the ring-shaped pods that lock onto the mouthpiece. Made of plastic (virgin, not recycled) the pods maintain a sponge that has been infused with pure flavors. Two tiny holes within the pod enable for air to return in by means of it, decide up scent molecules inside, and are available out by means of the mouthpiece and into your mouth, the place it mixes with the water and triggers your olfactory middle into pondering the water is flavored.
The expertise is fairly wild; it’s additionally fairly wasteful. Jüngst says the flavour lasts about 7 liters’ value, which I discovered to be true, however for the reason that scent evaporates progressively, the flavour began to vanish someplace across the fourth or fifth refill for me. (To decelerate the evaporation and protect the flavour longer, you’ll be able to push down on the pod and block the 2 holes.) For now, I’ve been stacking my used pods on my desk, however once I finally toss them within the trash, they’ll seemingly find yourself in landfills.
“We have to hold the flavour contained in the pod, in order that’s why we haven’t moved to a compostable materials,” Jüngst says, noting the crew is engaged on a recyclable model.
The worth is one other potential sore spot. A starter equipment, with a bottle and three taste pods, begins at $39.99, then the pods can be offered in packs of three, starting from $7.99 to $12.99 relying on the flavors. Arguably, you can get your self one of many numerous infusion water bottles accessible available on the market, minimize up your individual lemon, peach, or mango to pop inside it, and name it a day. But you’d have to attend a couple of hours for the flavour to infuse within the water—and also you’d must have some fruit in your fridge.
For Jüngst, the product is barely scratching the floor. She claims Air Up may additionally open potentialities for individuals with allergy symptoms who would be capable to understand flavors with out the damaging penalties. It can even introduce an array of flavors we are able to’t truly style in the true world, like “summer time rain,” “freshly minimize grass,” and extra experimental choices like “snake poison,” she jokes.
Experimenting with scent
The experimental aspect of the product is strictly what attracted me to it. If a product can persuade my mind that I’m tasting one thing I’m not, what does that imply for the way in which we design plates, glasses, and utensils? According to Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist on the University of Oxford who has written about olfactory dining and the multisensory experience of food, the overall thought behind Air Up has been pretty frequent on the earth of wonderful eating however has but to percolate into shopper merchandise.
Historically, European eating places used cloches to assist dishes retain warmth on their manner from the kitchen to the desk, however in line with Spence, in addition they performed an vital function in trapping aromas from the dish till the final second. Today, the cloche has fallen out of vogue, however cooks, culinary artists, and designers have been utilizing scent to reinforce the eating expertise in varied different methods, from charred plates, to cutlery with a clip for contemporary herbs, to aromatic dry ice infused with a touch of saffron or truffle, which might be prohibitively costly if utilized in bigger quantities.
In many of those instances, nevertheless, the scent has been used to enhance current flavors, whereas Air Up induces taste the place there isn’t any within the first place. Spence remembers just one different product with comparable intentions. The Right Cup, which launched in 2015 and seems to now not be offered on-line, is a fruit-flavored cup that makes use of scented lids and coloration psychology to trick you into pondering you’re ingesting orange-flavored water in an orange cup. I haven’t tried it, however Spence says “it tastes like artificial.”
Air Up doesn’t style synthetic in any respect, however Spence suspects that ultimately the mind would possibly understand there aren’t any advantages to scent-flavored water—no sugar rush, no vitamin C—and cease liking it. (For individuals who don’t like plain water, although, the added scents may encourage them to drink extra of it.) In the identical vein, he says individuals with meals allergy symptoms are so conditioned to “not go close to that factor” that these psychological associations could also be powerful to fight.
I’ve solely been utilizing Air Up for 2 weeks, so it’s too early to say whether or not my mind will finally catch up. But Spence says designers needs to be taking notice.
“If we settle for the declare that 75% to 95% of what we predict we style we’re truly smelling, then so a lot of our ingesting interactions are so very badly designed,” he says, referencing lids that stop us from inhaling the aroma of espresso, or, say, the tiny opening in a can of Bubly. “I definitely consider we needs to be doing much more to reinforce the scent part of issues.”