A salty situation: Japan invents electric shock chopsticks that trick your tongue into tasting salt – Screen Shot
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A salty situation: Japan invents electric shock chopsticks that trick your tongue into tasting salt

Researchers at Meiji University and Kirin Holdings have developed a pair of chopsticks that enhance the salty flavours of food through an electric current that shocks your tongue, tricking it to taste more flavour than there actually is. Apparently, you can’t feel any of the little zaps, but, even so, I’m not lining up to try it any time soon, would you? Don’t answer just yet. First, here’s everything you need to know.

To start, the term ‘umami’ has been variously translated from Japanese as ‘yummy, deliciousness’ with a pleasant savoury taste. It was first coined in 1908 by a chemist at the University of Tokyo called Kikunae Ikeda. According to The Guardian, “he had noticed this particular taste in asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat, but it was strongest in dashi—that rich stock made from kombu (kelp) which is widely used as a flavour base in Japanese cooking. So he honed in on kombu, eventually pinpointing glutamate, an amino acid, as the source of savoury wonder. He then learned how to produce it in industrial quantities and patented the notorious flavour enhancer MSG.”

Why I’m mentioning all of this is because this particular taste is very high in sodium due to the ingredient required to make it, aka salt, which isn’t exactly the most healthy thing to eat too much of.

Asian foods are famous for their umami flavours—hence why the object in question here is the humble chopstick—whereby some health concerns are raised due to the high salt ingredients we all know and love in the vast cuisine like soy sauces, fish sauces and, of course, miso pastes. The average Japanese adult consumes about 10.6 grams of salt per day, which is double the recommended amount by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Excess sodium intake is related to increased incidence of high blood pressure, strokes and other ailments. To prevent such diseases, doctors often recommend reducing your salt consumption. Which sounds simple enough—but for those who have been accustomed to heavily salted foods (let’s be honest here, that includes most of us), a more bland version of the same food doesn’t seem like the most appetising alternative either.

According to the research results, the chopsticks have the ability to enhance the saltiness perceived by a taster on a low-sodium diet by up to one and a half times. In other words, you (the electric chopstick user) wouldn’t be able to notice a difference in taste even if there was a 30 per cent decrease in the food’s actual salt levels.

How the electric chopsticks work to enhance the flavour of salt

The device uses electric stimulation paired with a mini-computer worn on a wristband to change the function of the ions (an atom or molecule with a net electrical charge) in salt and MSG, making them seem stronger (or weaker) to whoever is doing the eating. The device transmits these sodium ions from food through the chopsticks and to the mouth.

Two main components are used to create this illusion: the electrical stimulation waveform combined with the effects of both cathodal stimulation (which is what increases the saltiness at the time the electrical currents stop), and the anodal stimulation (which is what enhances the saltiness while electrical currents are ‘on’).

Most of the tests so far have been conducted using only gel samples with different degrees of saltiness, but the researchers also trialled it with a reduced-sodium miso soup, to which some of the participants reported more “richness, sweetness and overall tastiness” when using the magic chopsticks as part of the meal.

Homei Miyashita, lead researcher at Meiji University, is also exploring how such technology can be used to interact with and help stimulate human sensory experiences in relation to other objects, such as his team’s flavour producing ‘lickable TV screen’. No more food envy next time you watch The Chef’s Table, I guess. According to Sky News, this device called Taste the TV (TTTV) works by combining sprays from a carousel of 10 flavour canisters which can replicate the taste of particular foods. The food flavoured spray is then rolled out on hygienic film over a flat TV screen for the viewer to taste.

As Reuters reported, potential uses for such devices include distance learning opportunities for sommeliers and cooks, even providing tasting games and quizzes. But to take it further, the technology could possibly be used for toppings, like applying a pizza or chocolate flavour to your morning toast. Miyashita explained to the publication that “in the COVID-19 era, this kind of technology can enhance the way people connect and interact with the outside world. The goal is to make it possible for people to have the experience of something like eating at a restaurant on the other side of the world, even while staying at home.”

When will the salt enhancing chopsticks be available?

Miyashita and Kirin are currently working on the prototypes of their chopsticks and, according to The Straits Times, hope to release them to the general public sometime in 2023. They expect that the device will help reduce the amount of salt Japanese citizens use by at least 20 per cent, in turn opening up the possibility of developing the technology for other utensils such as spoons or bowls. Who knows what the future of culinary science holds?

We’re going to have to see it to believe it though, as a professor at the National University of Singapore, Nimesha Ranasinghe, had a similar idea back in 2018 with his utensils only managing to recreate saltiness, sourness and bitter tastes—sweetness was just too difficult to produce. The magical ‘umami’ concept was also too abstract for the respective testers to identify. Either way, food-tech is officially a ‘thing’.

20 weird ice cream flavours that will TERRIFY your taste buds

“What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?” is probably one of the most popular ice-breakers in conversations right after star signs. If you know a thing or two about frozen desserts, you probably assume that chocolate lovers tend to be flirtatious, vanilla enthusiasts, idealists and those who prefer mint chocolate chip, argumentative—while strawberry is linked to having an introverted personality trait. But what if someone with an iron stomach walked up to you one fine day and admitted that their favourite ice cream flavour is ‘squid ink’?

Apart from red flags, this claim is bound to raise eyebrows. Does squid ink-flavoured ice cream actually exist? Who even likes this crazy flavour? Well, buckle up fellow humans. Here are 20 ice cream flavours that will make you kiss your tastebuds goodbye forever.

Spoiler alert: some of these even require you to sign a waiver before purchasing them!

1. Pet bird-flavoured ice cream

Japan seems like a good place to start for bizarre food trends. In 2013, Torimi Cafe—a peculiar place where customers can enjoy meals while being surrounded by birds—hatched a new recipe: pet bird-flavoured ice cream. Dubbed ‘Cockatiel’, ‘Java Sparrow’ and ‘Parakeet’, the three flavours are made with all-natural ingredients which merely imitate a bird’s flavour. No fowl play here, folks.

But in case you’re wondering what pet-bird flavours taste like, the cafe has got you covered. For ‘Java Sparrow’, imagine “the feeling of pressing the breast of a java sparrow into your mouth,” while ‘Cockatiel’ tastes like the moment “when you’re sleeping with your mouth open and your cockatiel runs over your face and gets its leg in your mouth.” Thanks for the mental image, Torimi Cafe.

20 weird ice cream flavours that will TERRIFY your taste buds

2. Cactus

If you ever find yourself stranded in a desert with nothing to eat but a cactus, you know what to do. At Fenocchio in Nice, France, this dessert from the desert actually sells. One of the reviews left on Tripadvisor for the ice cream parlour reads: “For years we have seen that they serve a cactus flavour… this trip we went for a single scoop. Unusual gingery taste to it. We won’t be having cactus ice cream again but we’ll definitely be back.”

Meanwhile, cactus-flavoured ice cream can also be found across Japan—with many claiming that it tastes like “drawing water from a cactus after being parched in a desert for days.” Now, that sounds tempting.

20 weird ice cream flavours that will TERRIFY your taste buds

3. Corn

It looks like corn. It tastes like corn. Behold, the majestic corn-flavoured ice cream! Available at places including the Sweet Rose Creamery in California and the Korean Lotte Confectionery in South Korea, the flavour in question combines the sweet taste of corn and the creamy relish of ice cream. But according to food blogger Daniel Gray, it tastes more like “soggy popcorn that fell on a pile of yellow snow.” Yikes!

20 weird ice cream flavours that will TERRIFY your taste buds

4. Beef tongue

You know what they say: when in Tokyo, eat beef tongue ice cream! At the Yokohama Ice Cream Expo held in Japan, the flavour in question was, in fact, the bestseller—attracting thousands of fans back in 2008. “We have ice cream from all over Japan—from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south—but beef tongue has been the one that people keep coming back for,” organiser Manabu Matsumoto once admitted in an interview. If you’re wondering what it tastes like, imagine tiny chunks of a cow’s tongue folded into a base vanilla flavour. Maybe visualising a tub of frozen milky beef stew will help too.

20 weird ice cream flavours that will TERRIFY your taste buds

5. Grass

If you’ve always wanted to taste a freshly-mowed lawn with a creamy texture, this is it. Available in places including Max and Mina’s in New York City and Chin Chin Ice Cream in North London, the ingredients of grass-flavoured ice cream include parsley, violet, lavender, lime leaves and lemongrass. At Chin Chin Ice Cream, you can even get your hands on ‘Chin Chin Freshly Cut Green Grass’ at a steal of £4.45 ($5.85) for a 200 ml serving.

6. Squid Ink

Okay, who woke up and thought it’d be a good idea to infuse a dessert with something from the depths of the ocean? Those who have tasted squid ink-flavoured ice cream describe the odd combination as “sweet, salty, fishy and metallic” all at once. And if those claims failed to raise your eyebrows, note that the one available at the Soft Ice Cream Shop in Japan apparently leaves your tongue black after consumption.

20 weird ice cream flavours that will TERRIFY your taste buds

7. Roasted garlic

Sorry, we’re still digesting the fact that garlic-flavoured ice cream exists on this planet. ‘Nuff said really.

8. Bagel

Forget the black and blue dress, a major debate polarising the internet for the past year is Jeni’s bagel-flavoured ice cream. To date, there have been threats to call the police, offers to trade their first-born child and reactions from “pretty damn good” and “not at all gross” to “the worst thing I have seen in my life” for this one. And guess what? Including sesame, poppy seed, onion and garlic streusel, the cream cheese ice cream in question is re-releasing on 21 March 2022.

9. Jellyfish

What if the creature that we scream at and run away from on beaches could be turned into a frozen delicacy? Well, that’s exactly what Charlie Harry Francis, award-winning inventor and owner of the company Lick Me I’m Delicious, thought while inventing jellyfish-flavoured dessert. While the protein extracted from the sea animal is its main ingredient, Harry Francis additionally worked with a scientist to synthesise the luminance of jellyfishes.

Simply put, the ice cream glows in the dark when you lick it. But to witness this neon green glow, you’ll have to invest £152 ($200) for a single scoop. So, here’s an image of the creation instead:

10. Beer

I scream, you scream, it’s craft beer ice cream! Carefully crafted to maximise the potential of a brew and bring out its best attributes, beer ice cream is available in flavours including ‘Honey IPA’ and ‘Brown Ale Chip’ at Atlanta-based ice creamery Frozen Pints. “We were having a barbecue, and a friend of mine happened to bring over an ice cream maker,” founder Ari Fleischer said in an interview. “One thing led to another, and my buddy actually spilled his beer right next to the ice cream maker. I saw it happen, and it just kind of clicked—why not pour it in and see how it turns out?” Well, thanks to Fleischer and his friend, you can now eat your beer.

11. Sweet potato

American fast food chain McDonald’s is not far behind in crazy ice cream adventures. In 2018, some McDonald’s locations in Hong Kong started offering sweet potato ice cream—served in Oreo waffle cones. While the lilac soft serves packed quite an aesthetic punch contrasted by dark cones, those who tried the flavour have described it as “a mellow, gentle sweet taste” which was anything but bland.

“The taste requires a bit more time to settle on your palette, and requires a little more searching and identifying on your taste buds, but the effort is worth it, as the taste is incredible,” a food blogger wrote while sampling sweet potato-flavoured ice cream in Kamakura, Japan.

12. Cicada (yes, the sound-producing insects)

You might want to grab onto your churning stomachs for this one. In 2011, Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream in Columbia, Missouri, triggered health officials when it whipped up an ice-cream infused with cicadas. Literally. To prepare the batch, employees collected the insects from their backyards. After removing most of their wings and legs (some of which were used to garnish the top layer), the bugs were boiled and coated in brown sugar and milk chocolate. They were then mixed with a base ice cream flavour and sold to customers—who reportedly loved it and compared the zest to the taste of peanuts. Turns out anything can be an ice cream flavour if you add milk, cream and sugar to it, huh?

13. Coriander

If you still believe pizza-flavoured ice cream is a sin, McDonald’s China is here to rewrite that narrative once and for all. Last month, the fast food chain took the internet by storm with the debut of a limited-edition McFlurry sundae—with vanilla ice cream (so far, so good), coriander sauce and a topping of crispy coriander flakes. Say what now? Costing ¥6.60 (roughly £1), the bizarre creation was immediately branded as a “crime against humanity.”

14. Deep Fried Oyster

In Japan, the locals call this savoury-sweet flavour a combination of “milk from the land” and “milk from the sea.” Available for ¥300 (roughly £2), the Mickey Mouse-looking dessert consists of two deep-fried breaded oysters embedded into a soft serve on either side with salty oyster sauce. Many enthusiasts who have tried this flavour admit that it sounds terrible but is surprisingly delicious. I guess you’ll have to find out for yourself.

15. Lobster

Another questionable dessert invented by mankind is lobster-infused ice cream. Created in 1988 by Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor, Maine, the flavour includes real chunks of local lobster folded into each bite of vanilla ice cream. While many patrons have left positive reviews of the combination—by stating that the creamy vanilla matches the buttery lobster pretty well—there’s just something about mixing seafood with dairy that makes our stomachs churn.

16. Broccoli

Well well well, if it isn’t the food crime of the century!

17. Mamushi snake

Erm… maybe broccoli doesn’t actually sound like a bad idea after all. Bet hey, what doesn’t kill you makes a great ice cream flavour, right? At least that must be the motto behind Tokyo’s mamushi ice cream. For the uninitiated, mamushi is one of the most venomous snakes in Japan and is the main ingredient of the ice cream infused with the animal. An iron-stomached enthusiast who tried the flavour described their experience as: “My taste buds were fully aware of three parts—garlic, a bit of almond, but the third standout, well, I’ve never had viper before in any form (solid and liquid included) so that must’ve been it.” You’ve hit the jackpot, my friend!

18. Thanksgiving dinner

Have you ever sat down for a Thanksgiving dinner and wanted to gobble up the entire table at once? Enter The Ice Cream Store in Delaware, known for its ‘Thanksgiving Dinner’ flavour made of mashed potatoes, green beans and tomatoes with vanilla ice cream.

19. Breast milk

In 2011, Matt O’Connor, founder of Fathers 4 Justice and author of The Icecreamists, gained notoriety for making ‘Baby Gaga’ ice cream from donated breast milk. At the time, the flavour was launched with the help of Victoria Hiley, a breastfeeding mother and advocate who answered an advertisement asking for breast milk on Mumsnet. According to reports, Hiley donated 850 ml of breast milk which helped make the first 50 servings of the ice cream. It was then relaunched as ‘Royal Baby Gaga’ in 2015—following the birth of Princess Charlotte and to remind the Duchess of Cambridge and mothers around the UK of the benefits of breastfeeding.

As for the flavour, in this case, breast milk is apparently blended with Madagascan vanilla pods and lemon zest.

20. And lastly… crocodile eggs

It’s another normal day at the Sweet Spot Ice Cream in the Philippines, where employees make dessert with nothing but milk, cream, sugar and… crocodile eggs. Yes, you read that right. Claiming that they’re healthier than chicken eggs, the flavour combines crocodile eggs with sweet Durian fruits. At least the ice cream won’t bite back, I guess?