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A Japanese researcher has invented an “electronic taste synthesizer”, which makes it possible to recreate any flavour by licking a tube filled with coloured gels. Enjoy a virtual chocolate bar or a good grilled steak without any calories, a dream for those trying to lose weight. Here’s how this new gadget works.
Looking for a square of chocolate or a slice of sausage? No need to feel guilty about throwing yourself on food anymore: here’s the taste synthesizer. Japanese researcher Homei Miyashita, from Meiji University in Tokyo, has invented an electronic gadget to artificially recreate any flavour with zero calories. Just lick the device languorously and you’ll get the sensation of grilled steak or strawberry ice cream in your mouth.

Gel tubes like a four-colour pencil
For his electronic lollipop, named Norimaki synthesizer, Homei Miyashita was inspired by digital screens, where RGB pixels (red, green, blue) are juxtaposed to give a global image of a certain colour. The Norimaki synthesizer combines the five different tastes (acid, salty, bitter, sweet and umami) in varying amounts to create a unique flavour. The lollipop is filled with coloured gel tubes made of agar-agar (a viscous gel made from seaweed), just like a four-colour pen. Each tube of gel has a substance added to it to give one of the five tastes

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  • Wisteria for the sweet taste –
  • magnesium chloride for the bitter taste –
  • citric acid for the sour taste –
  • sodium chloride for the salty taste –
  • sodium glutamate for the umami taste –

The device is wrapped in copper foil so that when you hold it in your hand and press it on your tongue, an electric current is formed that passes through your body (rest assured, it is very low voltage). The current produces electrophoresis, a process that “sorts” the molecules of a gel according to their size. Depending on the setting of the device, the electric current prevents certain flavours from moving up the gel tube, thus reducing the associated taste

Artificial taste for calorie-free eating
According to Miyashita, the synthesizer has allowed users to experience a wide range of flavours, “from jelly beans to sushi, without having to put a single food in their mouths. In addition to its recreational function, the Norimaki synthesizer could be a weight management tool, Miyashita hopes. People with high blood pressure could also use it to replicate the salty taste without adding salt to the diet. Miyashita was directly inspired by previous work by Hiromi Nakamura, another researcher who in 2018 developed an electronic fork that mimics the taste of salt.

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An immersive cinema
The concept should also be of interest to film producers, who have already tried “augmented” cinema experiences with physical sensations and smells. The film Treehugger: Wawona, presented in 2017 at the Tribeca Film Festival, allowed viewers to immerse themselves in a forest of redwoods by equipping themselves with a virtual reality headset diffusing scents, a vest to feel vibrations and a haptic jacket for physical sensations (arrow, ball, rain, blast of an explosion…). We can thus imagine the sequel to the film Ratatouille, in which we will be able to taste the little dishes of the rat Rémy, or to taste Vodka Martini at the same time as James Bond.

One can still doubt that such a device really manages to fool our senses, given that taste is also a matter of smell, texture or even the temperature of food. For vanilla ice cream, fine, but good crispy fries dipped in ketchup, we prefer the real thing!

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