Lickable Screens Are the Horrifying Future of Food

Dystopia never tasted so good

A person uses the Norimaki Synthesizer
Somebody licks the Norimaki Synthesizer and tastes the terrors of the future.
screenshot from Miyashita Youtube video
By Jack Tien-Dana / May 27, 2020 11:26 am

For the entirety of human history, eating food has involved actually eating food. And yet, a researcher at Meiji University in Japan has disrupted the act of eating itself, having created a “taste display” that can artificially simulate any flavor. By licking this small tube, a user can experience the taste of their favorite junk food without ever consuming a calorie. 

The Norimaki Synthesizer is more than just an affront to nature: it’s a path to a greater understanding of the phenomenon of taste. At its most basic level, the Norimaki Synthesizer plays with the brain’s capacity to trick itself. The tongue can sense only five basic tastes (sweet, salty, acidic, sour, and umami), which are triggered in different combinations by different foods. In this vein, a pecan pie and a hamburger will both contain all five tastes, but in varying amounts. 

As such, the Norimaki Synthesizer has five gels (one for each taste) that are arranged by an electric current. Through a process called electrophoresis that I cannot possibly explain, the electric current sorts the gels so that a desired amount of each is drawn towards the user’s tongue while the rest of the gel retreats away from the device’s opening. In tests, the device has fooled users into thinking that they’re tasting sushi or a piece of gum, and not just licking goop out of a deceitful science lollipop. Similar to the way Michalengelo carved David from a block of marble, the Norimaki Synthesizer can create the taste of a hot dog by eliminating the excess flavors.

In These Trying Times, food is a necessary salve — beyond mere taste, there’s something singularly therapeutic about demolishing a can of Pringles that no “taste display” could replicate. Thankfully, the Norimaki Synthesizer is only a prototype and will not be released onto the hapless public for the foreseeable future. 

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