Imagine being able to tune into a taste like a radio station. That’s the future envisioned by a team of scientists at the University of London who recently unveiled an electronic spoon that is able to alter the flavors of food in your mouth.
For now, the device, called Taste Buddy, unveiled earlier this week at the The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair in Birmingham England, is pretty much a one-trick pony, but its trick is impressive. The spoon that emits a low-level electrical current that causes users’ taste buds to perceive sweet or salty flavors that aren’t actually there. According to the Telegraph, the invention works by using electric frequencies to exploit the natural chemical reactions happening on our tongues. “For sweet tastes there is a channel called TRPM5 which is temperature sensitive, so people taste more sweetness when the food is hot than cold,” the British paper writes. “So to mimic sweeter tastes the device changes the temperature of the tongue rapidly from 77F (25C) to 104F (40C.)”
Professor Adrian Cheok, the project leader, said the technology could be great for dieters, potentially making tofu taste like steak or, even more ridiculously, vegetables taste like chocolate. “Many children hate the taste of vegetables. So I knew that when I became an engineer, I wanted to make a device that could allow children to eat vegetables that taste like chocolate,” he’s quoted as saying. Talk about being a kid at heart.
Potentially even more impressive is the future the researchers see for these electronics. “Just like the microchip, we’re hoping to make the Taste Buddy smaller and smaller, to eventually fit within cutlery, fizzy drink cans, utensils and cups, and to be powered by a bluetooth device, to choose the levels of taste you’d like,” said Kasun Thejitha Karunanayaka who’s also involved with the project. At some point, they believe they could even mimic all sorts of different tastes – potentially giving people the opportunity to taste whatever they want regardless of what they’re eating.
At this point though, the concept is still in its infancy. “We also want to take into consideration just how different everyone’s sense of taste is,” Karunanayaka also stated. “To make it robust enough and available to absolutely everyone, we need to do more work.”
I love the ambition, but if you could just make it good enough to work for me, that would be cool too.