Experimental utensils make food shockingly delicious.

One of the big drags of getting older is not being able to eat with abandon any more. Nowadays just looking at the amount of salt my kids pour onto their food is enough to give me heart palpitations, but it sure would be nice to indulge in those strong flavors without risking a lifestyle disease.

Food producer Kirin and Meiji University seem to agree and through extensive research have developed a pair of chopsticks that can stimulate the taste of salt in foods with low salt content. This still unnamed device does this simply by sending a weak electric current right into your food.

The trick was finding just the right electrical waveform that affects the ions such as sodium chloride that are responsible for salty tastes so that the saltiness they produce is enhanced. As an added bonus, this current also affects the ions in monosodium glutamate, which is responsible for the umami flavor of foods like miso soup.

▼ Behold! The waveform of saltiness

They then conducted tests by feeding subjects a gel with a particular salt content and asking them to rate how salty it tasted in order to set a benchmark. They then fed them a gel with salt reduced by 30 percent. Interestingly, the test subjects’ scores also reported a surprisingly accurate drop of about 30 percent in perceived saltiness.

In the final test, subjects were served the same reduced-salt gel but ate it with the electrified chopsticks. As a result the perceived saltiness scores rose by 50 percent, making the reduced-salt gel taste saltier than the original salty gel.

▼ In this graph the y-axis represents perceived saltiness and the three bars along the x-axis represent the regular salty gel with normal chopsticks, reduced-salt gel with normal chopsticks, and reduced-salt gel with electrified chopsticks respectively

Encouraging results were also found in tests using a low-salt miso soup, with reports that not only saltiness was enhanced, but umami and all round flavor as well. Readers of the news were also impressed, but some expressed concern over what is essentially shocking ourselves.

“If they could do the same thing with sweetness, wouldn’t it make dieting a lot easier?”
“To dream of electric sheep…”
“The idea is amazing, but do you have to eat it a certain way to work? I wish they could just implant it in my mouth somehow.”
“Is this really better for our bodies though?”

It’s hard to say with certainty but the researchers behind this device say the current used is too weak to have any effect on the human body. It’s probably fine, and speaking as someone who licked countless 9-volt batteries as a child and then shocked myself several times as an adult doing electrical repairs that I had no business doing…

Sorry, I lost my train of thought there. Anyway, this does appear to be just the tip of the salt lick for this technology, as the possibility for other tastes to be enhanced through electricity does seem to exist and electrical currents can be applied to pretty much any form of tableware from bowls to spoons.

▼ A sportier version of the chopsticks with a wrist-mounted power source has already been designed

Who knows? Maybe some day even sumo wrestlers will throw around mild electric currents to purify the rings before matches. That would be pretty cool.

Source: Meiji University, Hachima Kiko
Images: Meiji University
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