Japan must always be tens of steps ahead on everything, at all times. Just while we were getting out of the aftershock of the McChoco Potato, the country goes ahead and adds to the list of things it has exclusive rights to.
It is a known fact that our choice of cutlery can alter how our food tastes. For example, silverware could make your food taste bad and similarly cutleries coated with different metals have different effects on the foods’ taste.
But did you know electricity could tweak flavors as well? The Japanese did! And to prove their knowledge and this fact, a group of Japanese scientists have devised a revolutionary electric fork that can make any dish taste salty, thus acting as a substitute for it.
The idea was first disclosed as a trial at the Computer Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas, in 2012.
Hiromi Nakamura, a Post Doc Research Fellow at Tokyo’s Meiji University, and her team wired a 9V battery through a straw placed in a cup of sweet lemonade. Volunteers subjected to the experiment reported that the charged lemonade tasted ‘milder’, because the electricity replicated the taste of salt.
Nakamura along with professor Homei Miyashita, now calls the idea ‘Augmented Gustation’ and has enabled technology to transfer an electric charge to food through forks and chopsticks as well.
“The metallic part of the fork is one electrode, and the handle is another,” Nakamura explained. “When you take a piece of food with the fork and put it in your mouth, you close the circuit. When you remove the fork from your mouth, you disconnect the circuit. So it actually works as a switch.”
“The goal of our system is to obtain a new layer of tongue that can detect tastes that we could not perceive previously.”
Benefits of the Electro Fork
According to Nakamura, the technology can be very useful for people on special diets. Luckily, the voltage is so small that there is no risk of electrocution either.
For example, patients with low blood pressure can go on a low-salt diet and still enjoy delicious food. And with the fork, there’s absolutely no risk of consuming more salt than required.
Nakamura has been practicing eating with the device for the past three to four years, in an effort to know it better.
“For me, food hacking is about augmenting or diminishing real food,” she said. “It may seem like we’re cooking but we’re actually working on the human senses. We are inventing devices to add electricity to the tongue. We’re trying to create virtual taste.”
As exciting as the product sounds, we won’t be seeing it in the markets soon. Currently, Nakamura is excited about the various possibilities of her electric food, but hasn’t thought about mass production yet.
Interestingly, the scientist is twirling around the notion of creating electric flavors, just like you make music. “The music our ears hear through speakers and earphones is actually electricity that changes into sound and vibrations,” she explained.
“If we could send that electricity to this fork, we could actually taste the music directly on our tongues. Then you could upload the taste to YouTube or Soundcloud. That way we could create Tastecloud – a site where anyone could upload tastes. You could design tastes just like you edit sounds in music making software. Both chefs and musicians could upload and share tastes online.”
Can you imagine the possibilities? We could simply save all our favorite dishes in a playlist – or foodlist – and that would be the end of craving and calories, as we know them!