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How many times have we watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and salivated over the scene where Violet Beauregarde swipes an experimental candy and immediately pops it into her mouth to enjoy the simulated flavors of an entire roast beef dinner, complete with blueberry pie and ice cream for dessert?
Now researchers led by scientist Homei Miyashita at China's Meiji University have outdone Wonka's magical three-course meal gum. They've created a digital gadget that utilizes five multicolored gels infused with ion electrophoresis, which can be manipulated to create different tastes interpreted by the brain as various flavors when you lick it.
Sounds kinda weird, but then again, our gray matter is a mysterious organ when it comes to processing electrochemical signals!
The new study published on the Miyashita Laboratory's official site describes an invention branded the Norimaki Synthesizer, a hi-tech taste display that employs the sorcery of ion electrophoresis in five gooey gels that contain certain electrolytes. The rainbow of synthetic substances supply controlled amounts of each of the five basic tastes (sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and umami or meaty) to apply a random taste to the user's tongue — similar to modern optical displays producing various hues from the lights of the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue).
When applied to the hungry user's tongue with zero voltage, the person can experience all five individual tastes. However, when an electrical stimulus is applied, the cations in the gel move to the cathode side and away from the tongue, allowing the chemicals to serve up a weakened taste. Scientists attached to the savory project have developed a drool-worthy display that manifests an arbitrary burst by individually suppressing the sensation of each of the five basic tastes to create a harmonious blend that can be mixed to produce a wide range of flavors without actually swallowing the gels.
"Like an optical display that uses lights of three basic colors to produce arbitrary colors," Miyashita explained in his research paper, "this display can synthesize and distribute arbitrary tastes together with the data acquired by taste sensors. The synthesizer has allowed users to experience the flavor of everything from gummy candy to sushi without having to place a single item of food in their mouths."
In today's virtual-minded world this just might be the perfect tool to stave off hunger pangs, but expect some incredulous looks from fellow citizens when you pull out your lickable display in public!