At the demo, I met 6Sensor Labs co-founder Shireen Yates, whose frustration with food allergies and eating out lead to the development of the Nima sensor. Adriana Lopez, the owner of Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen, was also there and told me how her native Venezuelan cuisine is naturally gluten free. Even so, she has learned what is necessary to make her food celiac safe, and uses the Nima sensor to perform random checks, all of which have been negative for gluten. (Check out Adriana’s blog and you will be salivating over the pulled pork pernil platter, passion fruit sangria, and the arepas!) See Shireen and Pica Pica in this PBS NewsHour video, which also shows how the Nima sensor works.
Speaking of how Nima works, the word simple comes to mind.
The sensor itself is light and comfortable in your hand. The one-time-use capsules come in sealed foil pouches to keep the chemicals viable. After you put a small amount of food in the capsule, closing the cap grinds the food and ultimately breaks the seal on the chemical pack that is the heart of the sensor. (Antibodies in the capsule attach to gluten proteins — if any — and cause a color change, which is then picked up by the sensor.) While Nima is working, you see a progress meter (on the newer models) that tells you how close Nima is to finishing. When finished, Nima displays an easy-to-understand happy face (if no gluten) or a sad face, if gluten is present. There will even be an app to let you share your results with other Nima users.
You can find better images on the internet, but these photos were taken last night and show the progress meter and the happy face (yay!):
I’m looking forward to receiving my Nima (yes, I pre-ordered!) and trying it out. If you’ve every tried a home test kit, you know you would never use one at a restaurant. The multiple vials and containers plus the mixing and waiting steps were hard enough to do at home. And the final blow (at least in the kit I used) was the pregnancy-type test stick that was near impossible to read.
Shireen likes to call Nima a pregnancy test for gluten. It’s a good metaphor because Nima is fast and easy, but the display is light-years ahead of lines-on-sticks!
Nima is not a panacea. You can’t test 100% of your meal, at least, not if you still want to have some left to eat! And, of course, nothing is guaranteed. We always have to ask questions and evaluate the responses to decide if we think a place is safe enough. That won’t change. But Nima can give you that extra bit of information about the establishments you choose to frequent. Or, perhaps more importantly, about those establishments that are new to you.
Check out the Nima test results for restaurants in San Francisco. Would this information help you decide where to eat? I think it will help me.
Hmm. I wonder what the other five sensors are.