You know those days when your heart wants pancakes but your head is telling you to order the kale salad? Science has come up with a device that can change the way your taste buds perceive certain flavors. The invention, called the Taste Buddy, sends out a low-level electrical current to stimulate taste buds, causing you to perceive sweet or salty flavors when they’re not really there. Scientists at the University of London unveiled the technology at The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair this week. The device as it is now isn’t portable, but the Taste Buddy team is working on an electric spoon prototype that would allow the technology to stimulate taste buds as you’re consuming actual food.
Taste happens when taste buds detect chemical reactions in the mouth. The Taste Buddy uses electrical stimulation to simulate these reactions. The tongue recognizes salty flavors, for example, when taste buds detect the reaction between saliva and the acidity of sodium, and because people perceive more sweetness in warmer foods, to mimic sweet tastes, the device quickly increases the temperature of the tongue from 77 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Professor Adrian Cheok leads the team behind the device and is driven by a simple goal. He told the Telegraph, "I knew that when I became an engineer, I wanted to make a device that could allow children to eat vegetables that taste like chocolate." The hope is that the Taste Buddy will eventually fit microchip-like into cutlery, soda cans, and cups and be powered by a Bluetooth device so everyone can choose the tastes they prefer. It will not, however, be able to recreate a pancake’s perfectly fluffy texture, or the mouth feel of a piece of extra crispy bacon.
Still, it’s remarkable that the childlike desire to make vegetables taste like chocolate has evolved into something that, according to Cheok, could potentially save lives. At the very least, the Taste Buddy has the potential to ensure you have a satisfying brunch no matter your dietary restrictions. Imagine the possibilities: eggs that taste like cheese, yogurt that tastes like chocolate pudding, Grape Nuts that taste like Cap'n Crunch, and rye bread that tastes like French toast. I’d call that life changing, if not life saving.