Researchers at Meiji University in Japan have teamed up with food & beverage company Kirin Holdings to invent a kind of “electric” chopsticks that increase the perceived saltiness of food.
At first glance, this invention may seem like an abuse of technology. But in Japanese food, this takes time. The average daily salt intake of Japanese is more than 10g, which is almost twice the daily salt intake according to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation, and it is known that it causes lifestyle-related diseases such as high blood pressure & chronic kidney disorders.
We previously reported that researchers have developed monitors that can track sodium intake in real time. But, as the Japanese know, low salt food is bland & tasteless.
Technology to rescue
A research team led by Dr. Homei Miyashita has invented these new chopsticks that use electrical signals to improve the taste of food. Previous research has shown that sodium chloride ions add salt to food, while sodium glutamate ions add sweetness. The researchers wanted to change the perception of taste, albeit with relatively low salinity, by sending a weak electric charge along with food that does not harm humans.
To achieve this, the research team developed a pair of chopsticks that could provide a weak charge and is, controlled by a minicomputer mounted on a wristband, that person using the chop stick must wear.
Speaking to The Guardian, Miyashita said the device ionizes the sodium in the food to create additional salinity. Although the total amount of salt in the food is small.
Verifying with trials
To see if their method worked, the researchers recruited 36 volunteers and gave them samples of foods to taste them which contain both normal & low amounts of salt. Volunteers were able to distinguish two food samples when eating with traditional chopsticks. However, both food samples were perceived as equally salty when eaten with “electric” chopsticks.
In this study, they succeeded in reducing the salt content by 30% without loss of taste. This is higher than the 20% reduction in salt intake recommended by the Japanese Ministry of Health.
Interestingly, this collaboration developed not only chopsticks, but also spoons & tea bows with similar results. Chopsticks will be the first product to launch next year.