There’s a new sensor for people who have gluten-sensitive and gluten-free diets. The portable Nima gluten sensor takes almost no time at all to return results about your food’s gluten content.
Ease of Use
Nima’s ultra-lightweight, coming in at 3 oz. It’s small enough to be discreet, giving users peace of mind in social settings.
The process is simple: take a small, pea-sized amount of your food (solid or liquid) and put it inside a fresh capsule. Screw the top on until it pops and the green ring disappears. You’ve successfully grinded your food now. Slide the capsule into the sensor until it clicks. Hold the power button until the device turns on, and press the button again to start testing your food.
Within 2-3 minutes, the Nima gluten sensor displays your results. The smile means it detected less than 20 ppm of gluten. The FDA says food is only gluten-free if it contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten. One wheat means a low level of gluten, while two wheat stalks mean that the food has high levels of gluten. An exclamation point means the test was inconclusive.
A team from MIT, Stanford, Google, and Nike developed the gluten sensor with the proprietary test capsules. It’s no wonder the device looks like a sleek gadget and runs the world’s fastest gluten test.
Nima also comes with an app for iOS and Android users to track their gluten tests and to see crowd-supplied data for safe restaurants, meals with low gluten, etc. The app also attempts to estimate the gluten level when you get a one-wheat (20-100 ppm) or two-wheat (over 100 ppm) result.
Nima, like other allergen tests, detects gluten by attaching a proprietary antibody to the sample of food. The company spent a year developing a custom antibody for this product. The test result obviously only tells you if the food you sampled has gluten, not what the gluten content is on the rest of the plate. To test the rest of the plate, you’ll need another fresh capsule.
Because Nima only shows ranges through smiley faces, wheat stalks, and exclamation marks, it’s not 100% accurate. And Nima explicitly warns customers that this is a decision-guiding tool, not an end-all be-all test for your entire plate.
The company also estimates its accuracy at 99.5%. Nima, in internal tests, showed it can detect gluten levels as low as 5 ppm. More testing is needed from Nima and third parties with no stake in the decision.
Nima can test solids and liquids, but it can’t test everything. Right now, Nima’s antibody can’t reliably test soy sauce, pure vinegar, beer, alcohol, and other fermented or hydrolyzed foods. These foods have much smaller gluten proteins, making them more difficult to detect. If gluten is added to any of these foods, however, Nima can work off of that food sample.
So far, the Nima gluten sensor hasn’t been used to test non-foods, like makeup or medication.
The app’s concept of social sharing is really a lifesaver for those with fatal allergies to gluten. The app asks for the restaurant name, food ordered, whether you told the waitstaff that the food must be gluten-free, and more.
Nima has a 300-mAh LiPo battery, similar to smartphones and other devices. One charge will last 10-30 tests. Lower gluten foods take more battery power than higher gluten content, which explains the range of tests available per charge. However, to recharge, you’ll have to wait 90 minutes to two hours.
You’ll probably get Nima dirty at a dinner table, but it’s easy to maintain: just wipe it down with a soft, damp cloth.
Regrettably, capsules are not recyclable. Adding to the fact that they are one-time use and cost $5 each, the monetary and environmental impacts of this device are pretty large.
Depending on how severe your gluten intolerance is, you may want to wait until Nima drops their prices. As of this writing, Nima is on sale for $199, with a promo discount for 12 free capsules. But without the sale price, the device normally costs $279. And, as mentioned above, each non-reusable capsule is about $5. Not everyone can afford this device, but it may be a perfect supplement to others’ lifestyles.