Electric Spoon Zaps Taste Onto Your Tongue

Eric Peacock, 'Tongue' via Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Who needs seasoning when you have electricity? Wait…What?

Scientists at New York University Abu Dhabi have created a rather bizarre new gadget: a spoon that uses tiny electric currents to recreate certain tastes on your tongue. This may sound gimmicky, but there is method behind the madness. The team hopes that, with further development, it could ultimately be used as a flavor enhancer for people that can’t eat much of certain foods, such as sugar and salt.

The technology, which is known as a digital taste simulator, works by transmitting tiny electric pulses onto the tongue via electrodes that are peppered across the spoon. By varying the frequency and magnitude of the current, the scientists can simulate four of the main taste groups: sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

To be effective, the researchers believe that it should engage more than one sense, so they added different colored lights, such as blue for salty, to enhance the perceived flavor intensity.

“Taste is not only taste. It’s a multisensory sensation, so we need smell, color, previous experiences, texture,” lead scientist Nimesha Ranasinghe told New Scientist. “I am trying to integrate different aspects of these sensations.”

Nimesha has also created a couple of other fake-taste gadgets, including a digital lollipop and a water bottle with a mouthpiece studded with electrodes.

But the proof is always in the pudding, so how did his gadgets fare when put to the test? He asked 30 volunteers to try out the bottle and spoon with plain water and oatmeal (porridge). Participants rated the gadgets as between 40 to 83% successful at recreating the tastes, depending on which one the scientists were trying to reproduce. Out of the four tastes, they found bitter the most difficult to create. Some also said that the metallic taste of the electrodes overwhelmed the other tastes, so the team will endeavor to dampen this as they continue to develop the gadgets.

The devices will be demonstrated this week at the ACM Multimedia conference in Florida. Although more work needs to be done, the team is hopeful that the products can hit the market within the next few years.

The technology could be particularly useful for people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetics that need to avoid sugar or individuals with hypertension that might benefit from reduced salt intake. Furthermore, it could also be used in cancer patients that have a reduced sense of taste during chemotherapy.

[Via New Scientist, Science and The Independent]

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