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Glenn Derene 02.28.06
Mankind doesn't need a lot of technology to get by in the kitchen. (Most men, in fact, don't use any technology more sophisticated than a bottle opener.) Yet most people have more technology in their kitchens than in any other room in their house.
The irony is that for tens of thousands of years, our species survived and thrived in the great outdoors with nothing more than fire and sharp, pointy sticks. Then again, our prehistoric forebears couldn't pull off dishes such as souffl?? and mille-feuille (not to mention banana-raspberry smoothies) with such primitive tools.
We prepare these elegant dishes because they are delicious, and because sometimes the preparation is as enjoyable--or as therapeutic--as the resultant meal. And just as a perfectly cooked chicken or a fresh-baked loaf of bread is a joy to make and eat, so are the technological wonder-toys of the kitchen a pleasure to use. The machines we keep in our kitchens allow us to make more of our meals, but at the same time they make the process of cooking easier all around.
See our selection of the coolest kitchen gadgets.
The golden age of kitchen appliances began around 120 years ago. The first electric mixer was patented in 1885 by Rufus M. Eastman; the dishwasher was invented in 1886 by a Shelbyville, Ill., housewife named Josephine Cochrane. The company she founded to produce her invention later became KitchenAid, which is now a division of Whirlpool (nyse: WHR - news - people). The first electric toasters were introduced in England in 1893; home refrigerators arrived in 1911; and the blender was invented in 1922.
These inventions have accumulated around kitchens over the years, drifting down the spectrum from curiosities to novelties and eventually to necessities. Along the way, these gadgets have quickened our food preparation, cut down on cleanup time and changed the basic character of cooking from a dreary daily chore to a creative pastime.
In many ways, what makes a good kitchen gadget so desirable is a subtle and seemingly contradictory combination of utility and pointlessness. You got along just fine for years without an automatic can and jar opener, but now that you have one, you can't imagine how you ever lived without it. There it sits off in the corner of your countertop, a highly specialized device that has been precision engineered to heroically open even the most stubborn pickle jar. And you can take comfort in knowing that the task is forever taken care of in your kitchen.
The cult of kitchen gadgets is not limited to any particular socioeconomic class, but a lot can be gleaned about a household from the machines they keep on their countertops. These days it is possible to buy many once-expensive devices--such as microwaves and dishwashers--at Wal-Mart Stores (nyse: WMT - news - people ) or Best Buy (nyse: BBY - news - people ) for relatively little. At the same time, however, brands such as Sub-Zero and Garland have become to the kitchen what Mercedes or BMW are to the garage.
The selection of appliances speaks volumes, but we pass no judgments: We love them all. However, we do love some more than others. Here we profile ten exceptional examples of kitchen ingenuity--from breakthrough cooking technologies to simple innovations that can keep others from eating your ice cream. Now if they could only come up with a gadget that really can keep us from raiding the fridge