There are plenty of ways to experience great food without actually going through the trouble of making it. We can read recipe books. We can drool over food blogs. We can even watch food-themed shows on our HD TVs. Unfortunately, no matter how good the picture, nothing can allow us to literally taste what Anthony Bourdain is eating. That is, until now.
New Scientist reports that a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore have developed a digital simulator that can synthesize four of the five basic tastes: salty, sweet, sour, and bitter (umani has not yet been added). The team, lead by Nimesha Ranasinghe, hopes their invention will one day allow viewers to taste the food they see on television, or provide video games with new taste-based reward systems (a sweet taste for completing a level, a sour taste for failing).
The taste synthesizer, which consists of two thin metal slabs place on top of and under the tongue, works by tricking your taste sensors with a varying alternating current and small changes in temperature. The machine does not currently simulate smell and texture, also an important part of taste, but the team is working on adding these features.
“We have found noninvasive electrical and thermal stimulation of the tip of the tongue successfully generates the primary taste sensations,” Ranasinghe explained to New Scientist. In order to make the device less ungainly, the researchers are working on a new model that will stay in contact with taste sensors when the mouth is almost closed, and thus allow the device to function without the user having to stick their tongue out.
Beyond entertainment applications, Ranasinghe and his team foresee a myriad of uses for their taste simulator. ”People with diabetes might be able to use the taste synthesiser to simulate sweet sensations without harming their actual blood sugar levels,” said Ranasinghe. “Cancer patients could use it to improve or regenerate a diminished sense of taste during chemotherapy.”
The scientists have even developed a new data format, TOIP (taste over internet protocol) to electronically transmit different tastes. If these magical taste lollipops become common, we might be messaging tastes to our friends along with cat gifs and YouTube videos.