Has looking at photos of food on the Internet ever made your mouth water? Do you ever wish you could jump right into your TV and have a taste of your favorite chef's latest on-air concoction? Do you sometimes wish you could taste a recipe before having to put it together yourself?
Well, thanks to a new taste simulator invented by researchers at the National University of Singapore, it may soon be possible to taste food right through your computer screen, television or video game console, according to New Scientist.
The device is a simple silver electrode that can be placed on the tongue. It works by fooling your taste receptors with a varying alternating current and slight changes in temperature, which are controlled by semiconductor elements that heat and cool very rapidly. This action alone is capable of producing a wide variety of taste sensations that can be programmed to accurately duplicate the taste of real food.
So far the device's signals can produce four of the five basic taste components: salt, sweet, sour and bitter.
"We have found noninvasive electrical and thermal stimulation of the tip of the tongue successfully generates the primary taste sensations," said Nimesha Ranasinghe, lead developer of the device.
Ranasinghe is still working to duplicate the fifth basic taste sensation, called umami, which is characterized as a savory tang. Even so, the device can already reproduce a wide range of flavors with remarkable accuracy.
Right now the prototype is a bit bulky and requires that users hold it up to their tongues. But future versions should be smaller so that they can fit comfortably inside the mouth, or on a stick like a lollipop.
The most exciting things about the device are its potential applications. Taste could be incorporated into virtual reality consoles, heightening the corporeality of virtual experiences. Flavors could also be transmitted over the Internet. Imagine being able to instantly taste all the recipes you're surveying on your Pinterest page, for instance. Even better, imagine being able to taste the food being cooked up by one of your favorite TV celebrity chefs.
The simulator could also have immediate applications in the medical field. "People with diabetes might be able to use the taste synthesizer to simulate sweet sensations without harming their actual blood sugar levels. Cancer patients could use it to improve or regenerate a diminished sense of taste during chemotherapy," explained Ranasinghe.
It could even be a tool for those looking to lose weight. You could potentially savor all the junk food you wanted without ever having to count the calories.
Once Ranasinghe and colleagues perfect the five basic taste sensations, they plan on improving the device to include other effects that are important in the sensation of flavor, such as the smell and texture of food.
If this technology takes off, it could forever shatter the sensual divide that currently exists between our real lives and what happens behind a screen.
Related on MNN:
- Look for recipes on MNN (but you'll have to try these the old-fashioned way)
- Make food delicious with the umami factor
- DIY virtual reality goggles