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Wild new ‘lickable screen’ can synthesize any flavor with gels and electricity

[CHI2020] Norimaki Synthesizer: Taste Display Using Ion Electrophoresis in Five Gels

Apple’s late co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs famously said about the bulbous and colorful iMac G3 that he wanted a computer that looked good enough to lick. But he probably didn’t mean it quite as literally as Homei Miyashita, a researcher at Japan’s Meiji University. Miyashita recently created a handheld “lickable screen” that he claims is capable of re-creating every flavor found in food.

“I believe that this invention has the same impact as the invention of color television,” Miyashita told Digital Trends. “Just as television mixes the three primary colors of light to create various colors, this system mixes the basic five tastes to create a variety of tastes.”

The so-called Norimaki Synthesizer works by using five different gels, each offering one of the five different tastes the human tongue is able to recognize: Salt, acid, bitter, sweet, and a savory taste called umami. When a person licks the device, they ordinarily taste all five flavors. However, when an electric current is applied to the device, the researchers demonstrated that they could weaken or strengthen certain taste combinations to create different pairings. This, they claim, can be used to re-create a plethora of different flavors.

In one demo, the Norimaki Synthesizer was wrapped in seaweed (norimaki is a type of seaweed used in sushi) to provide additional scent in order to create the illusion of a person eating sushi.

Homei Miyashita 1
Homei Miyashita

“If you measure the taste of something with a taste sensor, you can re-create the taste based on that value, using the taste display,” Miyashita said. “If this system is combined with a television, it can deliver not only the look of the meal, but the taste itself. If the taste sensor and display are built into the smartphone, it is possible to upload the taste of a delicious dish to a social networking service and experience the taste on the smartphone.”

Unusual research? Perhaps. But Meiji University is not the only place to explore similar technologies. Nimesha Ranasinghe, previously at the National University of Singapore and now at the University of Maine, also explores taste and flavor simulation. As Digital Trends has covered in the past, Ranasinghe’s inventions have run the gamut from a programmable cocktail glass able to trick your senses into thinking you’re drinking just about any beverage you can imagine to a pair of smart chopsticks and Miso soup bowl that add artificial flavoring by way of tongue-zapping electrodes.

Of course, none of this will actually fill your stomach up the way actual food will. But that’s a problem for another day.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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