Promises to axe sugar, not flavor
What if you could turn sparkling water into Coke? That’s the idea behind a new product that’s racked up $225,935 on Indiegogo—more than 4.5 times its original goal.
The Right Cup is advertised as a plastic, BPA-free vessel infused with aromatic flavors that you can both smell and taste when you drink water from it. It’s been written up everywhere from People to Mashable to Entrepreneur as the miracle alternative to plain water, though experts aren’t certain it’ll work as well as advertised.
“When your nose is over the cup it picks up the aroma, and the tongue flirts with the sweet taste coming out of the rim,” says the cup’s inventor, an Israeli entrepreneur named Isaac Lavi, 47, who goes by Dr. Scent on Facebook. Because as much as 90 percent of flavor comes from our sense of smell, while the rest comes from taste, texture, and temperature, the cup, Lavi says, tricks the brain into thinking plain water drunk from it has the cup’s flavor.
That idea is sound, says Dr. Gary Reineccius, who teaches courses on food flavoring at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Food Science. Though he’s skeptical about the execution.
Currently, six cup flavors are scheduled to hit the market in April 2016: mixed berry, orange, apple, lemon lime, peach. Cola, meant for use with sparkling water, was added to the lineup when the Right Cup met its $200,000 fundraising stretch goal in December.
The flavors used in the cups are FDA-approved chemicals, Lavi says, the same as you’d find in any artificially flavored drink. But those chemicals are suspended between the molecules of the Right Cup’s polymers and their leech rate, or how much of those chemicals make it into the water, Lavi says, is “virtually zero.”
That, says Reineccius, is unlikely. “Sweetness you don’t smell, and that’s required to support a flavor, just like tartness,” which is needed to achieve many fruit flavors, he says. “But flavors like sweetness and tartness, they don’t come out into the air, they come out into water.”
Which means the rim of the cup must release flavor compounds into the water. That’s not a bad thing. Artificial flavors aren’t necessarily any worse for you than natural flavors. But, Reiniccius says, that mode of delivery could make it difficult to achieve the right flavor balance; you’d have to use the cup under strict, ideal conditions every time to get the right taste.
“If you just poured up a cup and drank it, that would be fine, probably,” he says. But if you let it sit, with water touching the rim, “it would be sickeningly sweet and overly flavored.” And to achieve cola and many fruit flavors, he points out, the rim would need tartness, or acidity. Balancing the release of those compounds with the sweetness and the cup’s aroma would be tough. “It’ll be interesting to see where it goes,” he says.
Some of the cups’ flavor does, Lavi says, escape into the air over time, giving the cups a life span of six-to-eight months. Sensitive smellers who take care of their cups—hand wash, no microwaving, store upside down “to encapsulate the smell,” Lavi says—can expect the trickery to last more than two years, though Reiniccius suspects it won’t last that long.
Still, the $20ish per cup price tag may be low enough to entice chemical-averse health nuts bored of water. (That’s the cost equivalent of about 60 glasses of Crystal Light.) The Indiegogo campaign continues through mid-January, with the first batch of Right Cups shipping in April 2016.