Given its unrivaled abilities to improve the way our food tastes, it’s safe to say that salt is the building block of flavor. Too little of the stuff and you’re eating a bland dish. Overdo it, however, and you may increase your chances of health problems such as heart disease. Looking to find a solution to this conundrum, Japanese food and beverage giant Kirin has partnered with a team of researchers to develop electric chopsticks that can enhance people’s perception of saltiness and thus flavor.
How much is too much salt?
Most Americans eat on average about 3,400 mg of salt per day — that’s almost 1.5 times more than the US dietary guidelines of no more than 2,300 mg per day. As a result, many people suffer from high blood pressure and other health problems. In Japan, that number is even higher, with people consuming about 4,200 mg per day.
While it is not hard to find food with reduced salt content, most of it can be quite bland. What’s needed is something that makes food taste salty without it actually being salty. At least that’s what Kirin had in mind when it partnered with scientists at Meiji University to come up with a solution.
Flavor-enhancing electric chopsticks
As a result of the collaboration, the Kirin team and the researchers developed a pair of flavor-enhancing chopsticks that use electrical stimulation waveforms to improve the perceived flavor of food when people eat with them.
While there’s no proper explanation of how the device works as of yet, the company says the “electric taste sensation” system involves a regular chopstick and another one that’s hooked to a wrist-worn battery and control computer.
In a press release, the company wrote that the device system “uses very weak electricity – not enough to affect the human body — to adjust the function of ions such as sodium chloride … and sodium glutamate … to change the perception of taste by making food seem to taste stronger or weaker.”
In other words, the device uses electricity to bring to the surface the food’s sodium ions, so the eater can taste them better. In a diagram, the team revealed that the device uses a small (-0.5 A) negative current to prepare the food as you’re holding it, and a small (0.5A) positive current to further enhance the flavor as you’re having the bite.
Less salt without comprising on taste
In tests, participants reported a significant change in taste when using the chopsticks for food with reduced sodium. Particularly, the subjects noted that the richness, sweetness, and overall tastiness improved.
The team now plans to further improve the device with the ultimate aim to “provide both mental satisfaction from a richer perceived taste along with health benefits derived from nutritional aspects for those who follow a low-sodium diet.”
Additional Sources: Sabinet African Journals — Go light on salt