Chopsticks that run a weak electrical current through your body can help you eat less salt, say Japanese researchers.
In the Netherlands, almost 80 percent of people eat too much salt, reports the Nutrition Center† And well, if you cook yourself, you can of course choose to consistently sprinkle less salt in the pan – but unfortunately that doesn’t make your food any tastier. Japanese researchers are working on a solution for this: chopsticks that, thanks to an electric current, make food taste saltier than it actually is.
Circuit through your body
The electric chopsticks are a project of the company Kirin Holdings and the lab of Homei Miyashita at Meiji University in Tokyo. A current of up to 0.5 milliamps passes through it, according to a press release from Kirin not enough to bother with it.
So what does this stream do? Ai Sato, from Kirin’s Department of Health Sciences, explains: “When you put food in your mouth with our chopsticks, an electrical circuit is created through the food and through the human body. If you take the chopsticks out of your mouth, the circuit is broken.” According to Soto, this weak electrical current ensures that “the taste buds are stimulated, so that they perceive the salty taste more strongly”.
One and a half times saltier
If you also let the current flow through the food itself just before that, Soto explains, you can influence how the sodium ions in the food move. (Salt, or NaCl, consists of sodium and chlorine ions.) “This way you can make the taste of food stronger or less strong.”
To see how well the chopsticks work, Soto and colleagues had 36 people who were on or had been on a low-salt diet eat a gel with the same salt content as regular food and a gel that had 30 percent less salt. They then had to rate how salty the gels tasted. The test subjects estimated the low-salt gel to be one and a half times saltier than it actually was when they ate it with the electric chopsticks.
Richer, sweeter and better
The researchers also did an experiment with miso soup. “The participants put the tip of the chopstick in a cup of low-salt miso soup and then drank the soup straight from the cup,” says Soto. According to the press release, the subjects found the soup “richer, sweeter and generally better” with the stick in it. For some reason, they were not asked how much saltier they thought the soup was in this experiment.
And can we expect these kinds of sticks in the store soon? “We are currently working on a prototype and are conducting a number of studies,” Soto reports. “We expect to launch our product in 2023 or 2024.” She does not say whether there are also plans for western cutlery with a stream running through it.
Eating puree with chopsticks
However, Garmt Dijksterhuis, scent and taste scientist at Wageningen University & Research, doubts whether the application will find its way into practice. “Eating with these electric chopsticks is probably a strange experience. I think it’s easier to just get used to foods with less salt. Then you have a normal interaction with your food, and – once you get used to the lower salt content – a ‘normal’ salt experience.”
The idea is not really new, however. According to Soto, scientists have been studying electrical taste stimulation for some time. Researchers from Singapore and the US also experimented in 2019 already with electric chopsticks† At the time, test subjects ate unsalted mashed potatoes with it, which they experienced as having a saltier and more sour taste. “How effective this method is in people on a low-salt diet has not yet been fully explored,” says Soto.
†A world first! Research Confirms Perceived Taste Change Via Electric Stimulation, Leading to Development of ‘Taste-Adjusting Chopsticks’” – Kirin Holdings
†Powered chopsticks use electricity to make food taste 50% saltier” – Ars Technica
Ai Soto (Kirin Holdings) Image at the top of this article: Kirin Holdings