The wonderfully named Thai Delicious Committee, a Thai-government-sponsored agency, has developed a machine that can supposedly distinguish genuine green curry from inferior imitations of the country’s classic dish. The existence of an officially sanctioned Thai green curry recipe (involving Thai basil, curry paste, and coconut milk), not to mention a machine programmed to robotically taste it, is but one example of Thailand’s ongoing efforts in culinary diplomacy.
As the New York Times reported today, bureaucrats in Thailand have become concerned with the spread of Thai restaurants around the world that are not owned by Thai people and offer bland, watered-down versions of the cuisine. To establish gold standards for signature dishes, the government hired Thais to taste varied preparations, and the chemical signatures of the most popular recipes were programmed into the taste machine. The machine, when fed a sample of soup or curry, spits out ratings on a 100-point scale to declare how close a sample is to the national standard. A dish is considered too deviant if it scores fewer than 80 points.
The usefulness of such a tool is debatable (Can a machine really judge food better than a human tongue? Must we stick to one formula for each cultural delicacy? Why not encourage the natural evolution of dishes as they are recreated by new generations of people in new places?), but its development was perhaps inevitable in a world that already features beer-tasting robots and public health inspectors harnessing big data to predict incidents of food poisoning.
While Thailand’s commitment to bolstering the reputation of its cuisine—and the nation’s soft power—is understandable, perhaps it would do better letting its rich culinary gift to the world do its own diplomacy.