Japanese scientists do us a flavor with lickable taste generator

Illustration for article titled Japanese scientists do us a flavor with lickable taste generator
Photo: Scott Kleinman (Getty Images)

As consumers we are constantly bombarded with ads for the latest and greatest food gadgets, and if you’ve ever been suckered into buying one you know from experience that they’re often junk. But sometimes the clouds part and you’re presented with something so completely bonkers that you can’t help but gaze in wonderment. Today that device is the Norimaki Synthesizer, a handheld digital probe that dispenses flavored gels that (theoretically) should be able to replicate any flavor.

Admittedly, you can’t actually buy one, but the rather phallic-looking device (which, as its name suggests, is actually supposed to evoke a seaweed-wrapped sushi roll) is still pretty amazing. As introduced to us by SyFy, it was created by researchers at the Miyashita Laboratory at Japan’s Meiji University. The Norimaki Synthesizer works by exuding gels that recreate the five flavors perceived by our tongues: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. As the device is applied to the tongue it emits a mild electrical charge, the strength of which is capable of influencing how the tongue perceives the flavors carried by the gels. By manipulating the current, the device can replicate multiple flavors and, in the words of the paper’s author, Homei Miyashita, “When we wrapped the device in dried seaweed, presenting taste of salty and sour with seaweed scent causes illusion of actually eating sushi.”

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As for why this device exists at all, the final sentence of Miyashita’s paper provides this explanation: “We believe that this paper will be of interest to the researchers because it opens new possibilities for HCI [Human-Computer Interaction], allowing the addition of a whole new medium to multimedia experiences.”

I would counter that this paper is potentially of interest to everybody. Imagine being able to taste something without having to buy it, or to be able to strap on a 3D headset, stick an electrode in your mouth, and savor a completely imaginary hamburger. Imagine the worlds this would open up to picky eaters who are afraid to try new foods, or to gastronauts constantly searching for new flavors. Even more importantly, consider the incredible potential for mischief inherent. You think Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans were a chaotic idea? We have not even begun to scratch the surface of flavor-based pranking.

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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DISCUSSION

I think this came up on another GMG site and one poster smartly pointed out that this will likely be just like tasting things with your nose plugged.  without the smell portion its going to taste odd.  I guess since they can adjust things maybe they can do a fixing factor type thing to accentuate over what something would really have but its going to be at least a big hurdle.