Norimaki Synthesizer

Creating taste sensations without ingestion!

A professor at Meiji University in Japan has developed the Norimaki Synthesizer: a lickable rod that lets users enjoy various flavours without having to actually consume food.

Prof Homei Miyashita has developed a handheld “lickable screen” device that, when inserted into the mouth, can recreate all taste sensations associated with food.

The device relies on electrolytes inserted into five gels controlling the intensity of the five basic flavours: sour, sweet, bitter, salt and umami.

The process employs electrophoresis, the migration of microscopic particles activated by an electric charge. When the five-tube device touches the tongue, the subject perceives all five taste sensations. But when variously measured electrical charges are applied (in low enough voltage to do no harm), some tastes can be heightened while others recede.

Miyashita compares the manipulation of taste perception to our perceptions of images on video monitors. Our eyes view beautiful images on the screen, but in fact they are merely a series of continuously pulsating red, green and blue pixels of varying combinations and intensities.

“Like an optical display that uses lights of three basic colours to produce arbitrary colours,” Miyashita said in his research paper published on the Meiji University website, “this display can synthesize and distribute arbitrary tastes together with the data acquired by taste sensors.”

He termed his device the Norimaki Synthesizer. Norimaki are a type of seaweed wrapped around sushi. In fact, in one of his experiments, Miyashita enhanced the subject’s experience by wrapping the synthesizer in dried seaweed as he boosted the salt and sour tastes to more closely mimic the sensation of consuming sushi.

The synthesizer, Miyashita said, “has allowed users to experience the flavor of everything from gummy candy to sushi without having to place a single item of food in their mouths.”….

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One day, all across the world, will mindless snacking be replaced by mindless (possibly healthier) Norimaki Synthesizer-licking? Who knows! Perhaps this innovation is too weird and wild to ever be adopted by the mainstream.   

Or…perhaps it isn’t, because the Norimaki Synthesizer reflects a great shift we refer to as LAB RATS. The human need for good health has become so strong that consumers are embracing and experimenting with totally new kinds, sometimes extreme kinds, of wellness solutions.

This trend has only become more pronounced amidst COVID-19, particularly in Asia. For example, a slew of new vegan alternatives reimagine what eggs, Spam and even KFC’s fried chicken can be (the launch of which, by the way, was an overwhelming success).

This is also the continent where novel wellness concepts, like personalized superfood drink machines and personalized-by-the-day skincare, are rolling out. 

Of course, this isn’t only happening in Asia. And this shift isn’t reserved solely for health-focused brands. We live in a time when brands like United Airlines strike up partnerships with jet lag apps and Heineken foray into zero-alcohol beverages.

How can you tap into consumers’ increasing willingness to explore & experiment with wellness?

Journal References:

ACM Digital Library:… research.… Homei Miyashita. 2020. Norimaki Synthesizer: Taste Display Using Ion Electrophoresis in Five Gels. In Extended Abstracts of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts (CHI ’20). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–6.