Thursday, March 11, 2010

Does Le Whif Pass the Sniff Test?

I rarely go to media events for restaurants or food products, but I was intrigued enough by the PR for Le Whif "breathable food" to stop by their U.S. launch meet-and-greet at Dylan's Candy Bar this afternoon.  After all, I lost over thirty pounds on the sniffing diet.

Le Whif was invented by David Edwards, a Harvard professor of biochemical engineering who has worked extensively on the intersection of the arts and science.  Edwards has even published a novel titled Whiff that grew out of the Le Whif project.  Along the way, he also developed a breathable delivery system for insulin.  Edwards is charming, erudite and engaging, but what about Le Whif?

Le Whif comes in a lipstickian plastic container.  One pulls it open, takes a whiff into the mouth, and particles of chocolate or a dried coffee mixture too large to be inhaled are targeted to the taste buds.  I tested the pure chocolate and coffee versions.  The flavors were certainly there, but was the experience satisfying?  Not for me.  Granted, chocolate isn't my weakness, but still I can't help but see the product as a novelty whose appeal will wear off quickly.  I don't think this is the next big thing.  I understand that chocolate lovers might welcome a virtually non-caloric version of their favorite treat (and it has been developed in concert with renowned chef Thierry Marx, who Patricia Wells called "an inspired chef who shocks and satisfies").  But the decision to develop a coffee version as their next product baffles me.  The appeal of coffee is much more than the flavor or the buzz.  There's the ritual, whether it's making it, buying it, or drinking it.  There's the pleasure of sipping a steaming hot cup of coffee.  I'll be surprised if Le Whif chocolate has a future, but even more so if the coffee does.

I posed several questions to Edwards.  Why coffee?  I asked.  He responded with figures about coffee consumption that didn't really address my skepticism about this particular product.  I asked him if any studies had been done on the relationship of the product to cravings--does it satisfy them or does it create the desire to eat whatever is being whiffed.  I described my own experience with the sniffing diet, how I would eat steamed vegetables for lunch and skulk around sausage stands.  Some people wondered how I could resist temptation. For me the olfactory pleasure, combined with willpower, provided satisfaction, but surely it would have pushed many over the sausage edge.  Edwards responded that the products really aren't being marketed as diet aids, and that the effect of Le Whif vis a vis food cravings would probably differ from person to person.  I got the impression that it's not a question he or his partners had really thought about, which further convinced me that what we're really dealing with is a toy.  In the scheme of Edwards' career of interesting and valuable research, I think this will be remembered as a blip.

That didn't stop me from suggesting that his next project should be breathable bbq ribs.


Anonymous Dave Cook said...

Breathable BBQ ribs, with no rib meat at hand, would build me up, let me drop, and perhaps even send me to some chain-food outlet on the rebound.

9:47 AM  

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