People who suffer from food-related allergies or sensitivities know all too well the importance of ingredient transparency—and that allergens can be lurking in all sorts of unsuspecting places. That’s exactly what inspired the launch of Nima, a portable food lab (just 3.5 inches wide and 3.1 inches tall), which can be taken on-the-go to test small samples of food for the presence of gluten. The company hopes to release a peanut sensor in 2017, and eventually create a sensor for soy and milk as well.
Nima was designed in San Francisco by a team from MIT, Stanford, Google, and Nike, many of whom have gluten sensitivities themselves and have unintentionally eaten gluten in supposedly gluten-free foods.
“Options for understanding what’s in our food are minimal, and Nima has the vast potential to fulfill a visceral need in the food transparency sector,” Brad Feld, a member of Nima’s board of directors, said in a press release. “Nima leverages human computer interaction to provide the community with better data about our food to potentially save lives—in five years, we’ll wonder how we ever lived without it.”
To use it, you simply take a tiny sample of your food or beverage (about ¼ to ½ teaspoon), put it in a disposable capsule, place the capsule in Nima, and wait for Nima to analyze it for gluten down to 20 parts per million (the FDA classification for a packaged good to be labeled gluten-free). Each capsule already contains a testing solution that searches for the gluten protein in the food that’s been inserted. If gluten is found, Nima’s screen will display a wheat icon and read “Gluten found.” If no gluten is found, the screen will display a smiley face.
Nima is set to officially launch in fall 2016, though you can pre-order a device for $199. Because Nima isn’t considered a medical device, whether it’s covered by insurance varies by company. And that medical device distinction is an important one—Nima isn't FDA approved and it’s not meant for diagnostic purposes, LiveScience previously reported. Instead, the founders hope it will help to educate consumers about what they’re eating. Prefer to cook for yourself? Check out our guide to gluten-free flours, and these 30 delicious desserts you’d never know are gluten-free.