'Taste Gadget' Enhances Flavors Electronically

The device could provide saltiness for those keeping an eye on their sodium intake.


Homei Miyashita, from the Miyashita Lab at Meiji University in Japan, has created the Norimaki Synthesizer, a lickable "taste gadget" or electronic flavor saver.

The device is a part of the broader study of human-centered computing or human-computer interaction.

The novel taste display uses ion electrophoresis. It has five gels that contain electrolytes that supply controlled amounts of five basic tastes: magnesium chloride is bitter, citric acid is acidic, glutamic sodium is umami gel, sodium chloride is salty, and glycine is sweet. 

The device applies different tastes to the user's tongue that roughly correlate to colored lights, sort of in a way that Jolly Rancher colors represent "natural flavors." 

When applied to the tongue without voltage, the user tastes all five flavors. When an electric potential is applied, the cations in the gel move to the cathode side and away from the tongue, so that the flavor is suppressed. 

The taste display can reproduce arbitrary tastes by individually suppressing the sensation of each of the five tastes. The synthesizer uses electric current for electrophoresis rather than electrically stimulating the tongue. The user also doesn't have to swallow to deliver the flavor. 

The project builds off previous work trying to augment taste using devices. For example, chopsticks and straws that alter flavor by conducting electricity, changing soup with electric spoons, applying electrodes to the face, and even inserting a device into the mouth and generating power using chewing force.

Electronically altering your palette may sound weird, but how many of you still go heavy on the salt? You could make your food taste saltier without shocking the ticker, or consider margaritas with a virtually salted rim.

If anything, the device could open up an entirely new multimedia experience, such as in virtual reality environments or as a part of 4D theme-park attractions.

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