Japanese researchers invent 'electric chopsticks' that make food taste more salty

In a bid to help people follow low-sodium diets.
Ameya Paleja

Researchers at Japan's Meiji University have joined forces with the food and beverage company Kirin Holdings and invented a type of 'electric' chopsticks that increase the perceived saltiness of the food.

At first glance, the invention might seem like an overuse of technology. However, in Japanese food, this is the need of the hour. An average Japanese consumes more than 10 grams of salt a day, which is almost twice the World Health Organization (WHO)'s recommendation for daily salt intake and is known to cause various lifestyle-related diseases such as hypertension and chronic kidney disorders. 

We had earlier reported that researchers had developed monitors that could track sodium intake in real-time. However, as people in Japan have found out, low-salt food is bland and not to their taste. 

Technology to the rescue

A research team led by Dr. Homei Miyashita invented these new chopsticks that use electric signals to enhance food taste. Previous research has shown that ions of sodium chloride confer saltiness to food, while those of sodium glutamate confer sweetness. By sending a weak electric charge along with the food, one that does not harm humans, the researchers wanted to change the perception of taste, even though salt levels were comparatively lower.  

To achieve this, the team developed a pair of chopsticks that can deliver a weak charge and is controlled by a mini-computer that sits on a wristband, that the person using the chopsticks must wear. 

Speaking to The Guardian, Miyashita said that the device ionizes the sodium in the food, creating additional saltiness, even though the total amount of salt in the food is low. 

Verifying with trials

To verify that their method works, the researchers recruited 36 volunteers and gave them food samples to taste that contained regular amounts of salt and reduced amounts of salt. The volunteers were able to differentiate between the two food samples when eating with traditional chopsticks. However, when eating with the ‘electric’ chopsticks, both food samples were perceived as equally salty.

Salt reduction of as much as 30 percent was achieved without a loss in taste during this study. This is above the 20 percent reduction in salt intake that the Japanese Health Ministry has recommended. 

Interestingly, the collaboration has developed not just chopsticks but also spoons and tea bows, which can deliver similar results. The chopsticks are likely to be the first products released, perhaps as early as next year. 

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