This device lets you taste different flavours without putting any food in your mouth
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A device known as the Norimaki Synthesizer could ultimately replace the expression, “I could almost taste it,” with “I can taste it.” In Tokyo, Japan, a team of scientists, led by professor Dr. Homei Miyashita from Meiji University, developed this device, which simulates different tastes and food items. The research findings can be found on the online platform ACM Digital Library.
As stated in the research article, the ‘lickable’ device produces the five basic tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, acidic, and umami (savoury). It can also create the sensation of tasting actual food items ranging from candy to sushi using a technique known as electrophoresis. Electrophoresis is the separation of electrically charged particles within an electrolyte, a substance that conducts electricity when dissolved in a solvent such as water. Different types of tastes are synthesized using electrophoresis in special gels.
These gels contain specific electrolytes that are responsible for the tastes. The research team created the five basic tastes by separately dissolving different electrolytes in water, namely sodium chloride (salty gel), glycine (sweet gel), magnesium chloride (bitter gel), citric acid (acidic gel) and glutamic sodium (umami gel).
Agar, a gelatinous seaweed extract, was then added to create the five gels. They were placed in tubes, left to harden, then built to form a bundle. The bundle was covered with copper foil. When the copper foil segment of the device touches the tongue, the device generates a low voltage. This produces an electrophoretic circuit in the gel, which simulates taste.
In the research article, Dr. Miyashita states that the concept used was comparable to that of an optical display.
“Like an optical display of three basic colours to produce arbitrary colours, this display can synthesize and distribute arbitrary tastes together with the data acquired by taste sensors,” he expressed.
In addition to producing the five basic tastes, the device creates the illusion of tasting food items. Particularly, seaweed was used to simulate sushi. Dr. Miyashita reports that when the device was wrapped with dried seaweed and set to generate the salty and sour taste, with the scent of the seaweed, the illusion of eating sushi was created.
Miyashita further explains that the intensity of the desired taste can be controlled by adjusting the voltage flowing through the circuit. This also enables a transition between the different tastes. He reports that the device produced a sweet candy-like taste after a sushi-like taste and that after 30 minutes, the tastes did not fade.
The Norimaki Synthesizer allows users to enjoy food without putting real food into their mouths. This device could have different applications in the future. For example, people who are trying to avoid certain foods they love while actively aiming to lose weight could, perhaps, indulge their cravings with artificial versions of their favourite foods.
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