From Virtual Taste to A 'Tastecloud'

The Lempert Report
February 25, 2016

Japanese Researchers Change The Way We Taste Food

Only from Japan could come an electric fork that can actually change the tastes of food – in this case making it more salty in order to reduce the actual levels of sodium, but not diminishing the flavor. The idea of adding electricity to food was first revealed in 2012 by Hiromi Nakamura, a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at Tokyo’s Meiji University, as an experiment at the Computer Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas. The team connected a wire to a nine volt battery and threaded it through a straw placed in a cup of sweet lemonade. They then had volunteers drink the lemonade. The result? The lemonade tasted bland but had a salty taste. By the way, if you were wondering, the voltage from the battery is low according the researchers, so there is no risk of electrocution. 

The basic tastes are sweet, salt, bitter, sour, and umami. The researchers found that the electricity stimulates the tastebuds.

Moving past the concept and testing stage, this idea is now named ‘Augmented Gustation’ and they have refined the technology to be able to transfer an electric charge to food through both forks and chopsticks. They say their goal “ is to obtain a new layer of tongue that can detect tastes that we could not perceive previously.” 

This technology, while some may question the long term effects idea of fooling our taste buds, may have some dietary benefits for people on special diets, for example, those with high blood pressure who could more comfortable convert to a low, or no salt diet regimen. 

It turns out that this is not a new idea, in fact according to Nakamura it is a concept that was discovered by a man named Sulzer over 250 years ago.

She explains:  “The starting point for Alessandro Volta to invent the battery was actually when Sulzer took two different metallic plates and put them on his tongue. He felt some kind of electric taste. And that’s how the battery was born.”

Her idea is to invent devices to add electricity to the tongue and create virtual taste – which could, for example, lead to what she calls Tastecloud – a site where anyone could design and upload tastes just like you edit sounds in music making software.  Imagine being able to “taste” a restaurant chef’s recipes before