At work in the PRL


Scott and Sam are hard at work in the Product Realization Lab at Stanford University, where we are currently fabricating ten prototypes to bring with us to Ethiopia. Each bent over a lathe with looks of intense concentration on their faces, they’re threading steel rod, as Queen blares over the PRL speakers. These rods will comprise the drive shafts for the Pepper Eater, and we need twenty of them for ten prototypes. Each drive shaft consists of a square rod with two rounded sections screwed onto the ends.


Meanwhile, we are also drafting a field guide to assist us during our user testing. This includes questions we will ask pepper processors in order to learn about how helpful they found the Pepper Eater to be, how much much one would be willing to pay for it, and other insights. The field guide will also include useful Amharic phrases, maps, and our in-country contacts’ information.

We hope you keep following our progress over the next six days as our trip approaches!

Tyler Valiquette

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2 Responses to At work in the PRL

  1. Menkir Tamrat says:

    To the Pepper Eater team,

    I was given the link to your effort on the subject curtsy of Rahel and wanted to share with you my feedback as I’m also very interested in a modern solution to an old problem. I’m on my third trial run of blending peppers to make berbere starting with hole peppers right here on the East Bay. The first three trails were based on off the shelf pepper verities from California, New Mexico, Mexico and Indian varieties. The next (and last) two trial runs will involve peppers purchased in Ethiopia and Ethiopian Peppers grown and dried right here in California.

    Looking at the information in your blog, I’m not quite clear on your berbere processing assumptions at the village level but there are distinct steps in the preparation of berbere in general that I don’t see the pepper eater addressing. These key steps are:
    1) Making the “Diliz”. This is the process making a semi wet mush by mixing the chili pods with ginger, garlic, shallots, etc. I find a standard kitchen food processor works well for this key step.
    2) The “Diliz” is air/sun dried and the dry ingredients (like cardamom, coriander, cloves, salt, etc.) are warmed/gently toasted over a warm pan. Then “all” the ingredients are gently toasted together on a warm pan/mitad one last time.
    3) The final and most important step is to have all the ingredients (well dehydrated by this phase) milled into a very fine powder – almost as fine as all purpose flour (this phase is a bit of a struggle for the average modern kitchen because even the best coffee grinders seem unable to produce the required granularity).

    Given the above, I can picture the Pepper Eater adding some value to step 1.

    Hope this will be of some value to your project and I look forward to see a prototype demo soon.

    Great effort and best of luck,

    Menkir Tamrat.

    • samner says:

      Hi Menkir! Thanks for visiting our blog and for your feedback. I am sorry we weren’t able to meet with you before we left for Ethiopia. The goal of the pepper eater is not to make berbere, but to help process the whole, dried peppers so they are ready for the berbere mix. When we visited markets in Ziway, many women we saw were breaking whole dried red peppers into small flakes and separating seeds with their hands. They would sell either the whole peppers, the flakes, or the seeds separately. The part of the process we are trying to improve is breaking the dried peppers into small flakes and separating the seeds, so that women who sell the flakes and seeds can process them more efficiently. We are not trying to make the pepper powder.

      What size are the peppers that you add to your Diliz? Are they whole or chopped into smaller pieces?

      It would be wonderful to meet and talk with you when we return to the Bay Area in late September. I’d be very interested to see how you make bebere! Thanks again.

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