Meet SMALT, the “interactive centerpiece” that tracks your salt consumption
Alexa, play “Africa” by Toto. Now dispense half a tablespoon of salt.
SMALT, a smart salt shaker billed as “the world’s first interactive centerpiece,” launched this week on Indiegogo. For a hefty $199 (currently $99 during a limited-time “super early-bird special”), the sleek gizmo pairs with Bluetooth, integrates with Amazon Echo and sets rooms aglow with mood lighting.
And, of course, it doles out precise measurements of table salt — which you can solicit using buttons on the standalone device, voice commands to Alexa or hand motions on an optional yet-to-debut app, which also tracks sodium consumption. The rechargeable lithium battery lasts four hours with all features in play, or several weeks if you’re just seasoning food a few times a day.
SMALT is not a joke, a cry for help or space-age satire. On the contrary, its inventor wants to keep you from binging on excess sodium.
“Daddy, you know how many times I’ve told you you’re putting too much salt in my scrambled eggs!” Bipan Singh recalls his daughter scolding him three years ago. “That was not her first time pointing it out. That was her fourth or fifth time.”
The Long Beach, Calif.-based entrepreneur, with stints at pharmaceutical companies including Allergan, Novo Nordisk and Boehringer Ingelheim over roughly 15 years, is duly familiar with ingredients lists and health risks. But the repeated reminders from his kid, now 9, got him thinking.
“I always look at labels for salt content; I’m very aware. And I thought that despite all that awareness, it’s just my habit of making a pinch, and who cares how big that pinch is,” Singh, 43, told Moneyish. “Can there be something better where we can consistently measure and track out how much salt we’re putting in our food?”
As any doctor worth her salt will tell you, excess sodium in the bloodstream puts you at greater risk for high blood pressure, aka hypertension — a key risk factor for heart disease and a precursor to heart attack, stroke and kidney failure, per the American Heart Association. And though only about 11% of dietary sodium comes from the shaker (75% is from packaged foods and restaurants, the FDA says), the recommended daily intake is 2,300 mg or less — the equivalent of about a teaspoon of salt. The average American, meanwhile, consumes about 3,400 mg a day.
“As Americans, we’re aware that excessive salt consumption is bad, but nobody is very proactively doing anything,” Singh said. “If you’re using SMALT with an app, you can start with a very high setting if you’re used (to that). Then gradually every week you go one setting lower.” Our brains won’t sense the small reduction, he said, “but our taste buds start getting used to it.”
So Singh in June 2014 quit his job as global marketing head for the pharma company Mylan — later harnessing his 401k, savings and a little from family and friends to launch a small startup, Herb & Body, which he hopes will eventually develop “more herbal or organic” products. “Big leap of faith,” he said, “but you’ve gotta do what you gotta do to try it.”
The bells and whistles came as SMALT “evolved into something to further add value to dining experience,” he said. Enter mood lighting and a Bluetooth speaker.
“Oftentimes even when the food doesn’t taste that good … it’s the company of the people who enjoy that food, and how the ambiance is set, and what kind of music is playing, and what kind of lighting you have,” Singh said. “All those small, small elements add to that experience.”
Alas, SMALT cannot yet grind your artisanal pink Himalayan sea salt (that would require a “very different mechanism,” said Singh, who is already exploring the possibility after input from ground-pepper enthusiasts). The original grinder-less iteration, which from 54 backers has raised more than $8,000 of its $25,000 goal, starts shipping in March. The app will debut concurrently.
And yes, Singh is aware of the incredulous press around his brainchild. One outlet likened SMALT to Juicero, the much-mocked $400 juicer that squeezes pre-packaged juice. Another compared its newly debuted commercial, which plays piano chords over a laughing gaggle of friends toying with a SMALT over dinner, to a “Saturday Night Live” ad. He takes the flak with a grain of salt: “There are gonna be people who are gonna like a product or who can laugh at a product,” he said. “That doesn’t bother me.”
Singh hopes to sell SMALT for $129 to $149 once he starts producing in greater volume — but maintains that the combo of a battery-operated salt dispenser (a “decent” one can put you out $60 or $70, he says), ambiance lighting and Bluetooth speakers make the device a good value for health-conscious and smart-home techies.
Plus, he added, there’s the novelty of ordering up salt from a smartphone.
“It makes the party a little more lively,” Singh said. “It basically starts the conversation and (makes) the gathering a little bit more fun.”
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