UMaine Researcher Developed Chopsticks That Shock Your Tongue
In a world ruled by salty junk food and high blood pressure medication, one man is fighting for our right to delicious food and fewer health problems.
Nimesha Ranasinghe, who just joined the University of Maine as an assistant professor and director of the Multisensory Interactive Media Lab, has created chopsticks designed to electrify your tongue and trick your brain into thinking you're tasting things that aren't there. The chopsticks have electrodes embedded in the tips that gently shock your tongue and produce simulated flavors.
When Ranasinghe had participants in his study eat unsalted potatoes with the electric chopsticks, he found that he could reliably increase the perception of saltiness. He also experimented with bitter and sweet flavors by adjusting the amplitude and frequency of the current, but simulated saltiness prompted the most reliable response.
Ranasinghe began his flavor simulation journey in his Ph.D. project, first attempting to deliver flavors over the internet and attaching electrodes to the tongues of participants who had lost their sense of taste. He found that gentle shocks even simulated flavors for these taste-impaired participants. Ranasinghe used that as a starting point for electric flavor simulation that ultimately led to the development of his shock utensils. He has also experimented with an electric soup bowl that stimulates your tongue when you slurp soup from it, as one does with miso.
The electrodes need two points of contact to send a current through your tongue, which poses a challenge in engineering taste simulation utensils. This time they did it with chopsticks and bowls, but it could presumably work with forks as well.
We are definitely in the early stages of simulated tasting; as Ranasinghe puts it, “It’s like TV in the 1950s.” But this could be the beginning of a new era. Can you imagine how much easier it would be to stick to a diet if you could fork kale in your mouth and taste chips?!