BjornQorn makes solar-popped popcorn

In his new book The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, J. Kenji López-Alt wants you to use a beer cooler, water, an instant-read thermometer, some Ziploc bags, and a few towels to make a super DIY sous vide. Put it in a sunny spot in your kitchen, he advises, and cook everything from brats and beer to olive oil–poached salmon and rib-eyes with shallots, garlic and thyme. That sure beats spending a couple hundred bucks on a fancy sous vide machine.

It’s clear that Kenji has laboriously tested every recipe and idea in the book, with positive results, so this isn’t a cockamamie hypothesis from a novice but a practiced prescription from a professional. But I still can’t quite get behind the idea of putting raw meat in a cooler with some lukewarm water, setting the whole thing in a warm spot on the kitchen floor, and letting nature take its course.

But it turns out he’s not the only one. While some companies are making super high-tech kitchen devices, others are turning to the lowest-tech possibilities around. For example, GoSun’s line of solar ovens use compound parabolic reflectors and a tubular design to convert almost 80 percent of sunlight that enters the device into useable heat. There’s also a vacuum tube oven involved, and it doesn’t require electricity, gas, or any other man-made fuel to work.

Meanwhile BjornQorn makes solar-popped popcorn using a device they invented themselves: massive mirrored reflectors that collect and focus the sun’s rays, similar to how little kids fry ants with a magnifying glass. The $6 bags are available at hipster-centric specialty stores in the Northeast, and the popcorn has become so popular that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams even made an ice cream flavor out of it.

And just recently, KinoSol’s solar-powered food dehydrators were fully funded on Kickstarter. The devices use a convection system and zero electricity. The company wants to make domestic dehydrators that will help individual households decrease their food waste by finding another use for those brown bananas or slightly mealy apples: The thought is that once they’re dehydrated, they’ll make a tasty snack.

The idea of an environmentally responsible, low-power way to cook is intriguing and on-trend, as people want to be connected to making their food in every way possible. Also, both KinoSol and BjornQorn have used their devices in third-world countries to bring an easy way of cooking to places that do not have electricity or access to other fuels, and for that reason, they’re invaluable. We believe that over time more and more companies will move into this space. But to be successful with the mainstream tech user, the products themselves need to feel more expensive and offer more than just a low-energy way to cook — they need to prove that cooking this way makes better-tasting or more nutritious food.