Electric Lemonade Zaps Taste Buds

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A research project at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Austin experimented with adding electricity to food to change its taste.

Check out the experiment in one of my video diaries on YouTube.

A small piece of wire was inserted into a straw, which was then placed in a cup of lemonade. The wire was connected to a nine-volt battery and while there was no danger, conference organizers still made participants sign waivers. When electricity was added to the lemonade, the drink was supposed to become more salty, Meiji University student Hiromi Nakamura said. When I tried it, it tasted like the sugar disappeared; the lemonade became more bland.

There were also cheese cubes attached to electric forks. When I tried one, I accidentally turned the fork up high enough to receive an unpleasant shock. Taste change in solid foods was difficult to perceive because I would have needed to be chewing the food with the fork in my mouth to electrify it.

Nakamura said that one potential use for the technology is helping control a person's diet. For example, she said that the electricity could replace large amounts of salt in food since more electricity simulates more salt. Whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen because it is still only a research project.

Another potential use is taste sharing. Since waveform data is recorded by the system another user could download that data and reproduce the original effect.

Nakamura said that electricity has no nutritional value so while the taste may change, the chemical make-up of the food does not.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at Nick_Barber@idg.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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