For all you salt junkies out there, if your dinner last night was missing some zing a newly developed spoon studded with electrodes could help. The spoon creates tastes on your tongue with a pulse of electricity. It has been noted that the spoon may add some extra flavour for people who should not eat certain foods.
The spoon works by using different frequencies and magnitudes of current through the electrodes can create the impression of saltiness, sourness or bitterness. The spoon was developed by Nimesha Ranasinghe at the New York University Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and his team, who have also developed a water bottle with similar hardware on the mouthpiece.
Both devices use various coloured lights, like blue for salty, in an attempt to augment the perceived intensity of the flavour. Did you know that taste is not only taste, it is a multi-sensory sensation. This means we also need smell, colour, texture and previous experiences. By boosting the flavour of plain foods, Ranasinghe says a tool like this could be useful for people with diabetes or heart issues who have been ordered to cut down on salt and sugar.
To see how well the electric utensils could fool diners, 30 people tried them out in a taste test with plain water and porridge. The spoon and bottle were judged 40%-83% successful at recreating the tastes, depending on which one they were aiming for. Bitter was the hardest sensation to get right. Some testers also said they were distracted by the metallic taste of the electrodes; a pitfall the researchers will work on next.
Both devices will be demoed at the ACM Multimedia conference in Orlando, Florida. Ranasinghe hopes to commercialise the spoon and bottle in the next few years.
Rutkin, A. (2014) Food Needs Salt? Just Add Some Tasty Electricity. New Scientist. Weekly, November 1-7 2014, pp.22.