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The digitization of flavors: The last frontier in the digital transformation of restaurants?


The search for new reinterpretations of the restaurant sector has only accelerated during the crisis of the coronavirus. Restaurants look for new business models and in the past, history has shown us that emerging technologies are a great ally to get afloat.

So that, no wonder lines of thought as bizarre as the taste digitization. Sound and image are two of our senses that are already in the process of digitization. We consume videos on television, series in Netflix, music in Spotify and audiovisual works in many other providers. Nevertheless, the concept of digitizing touch, smell or taste are more alienating to us. And despite this, we are already seeing progress in the first case to make interactive experiences in virtual reality closer to reality.

Now, a Japanese researcher has achieved a milestone in the simulation of flavors via digital: he Norimaki synthesizer. Presented for the first time at the renowned CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems held this 2020, the synthesizer works as a flavor emitter interface, analogously to how a screen displays images or a speaker transmits sound.

In this way, what Homei Miyashita, Meiji University researcher (Japan) has created is a kind of screen to lick.

It is a small tube that contains five gels that, via ion electrophoresis, is capable of generating salty flavors, sweet, acids, bitter and even the famous umami. But it's not limited to these five fundamental flavors, but thanks to an intelligent regulation of the intensity provided by the gels, the Norimaki synthesizer is capable of simulating more complex flavors, worthy of sensations that we would enjoy when tasting real recipes.

The technology is well known for decades, but now it is used here in an ingenious way to achieve an effect never seen before. Electrophoresis is nothing more than the displacement of dispersed particles in a colloidal medium (the ice) under an electric field (the current that makes the appliance work). In this simple way, when the tube comes into contact with the tongue, taste buds detect the flavor that has been simulated.

In Miyashita's own words, «In the same way that an optical screen uses three basic colors to produce arbitrary colors, this interface can synthesize and distribute arbitrary flavors thanks to the information received by the taste buds. […] This has allowed users to experience flavors of all kinds., from jelly beans to sushi, without having to take any food ».

The device is an evolution of the increased taste, an attempt to bring augmented reality to the field of gastronomy. A concept invented in 2011 by Hiromi Nakamura through which he used chopsticks with electrodes to simulate flavors that a human could not enjoy under normal conditions. On the other hand, name, it is due to algae norimaki that are used dehydrated to hold the boiled rice in the makis, a classic Japanese ingredient well known and quickly identified by all Japanese.

The possible applications of this system are very wide, but Miyashita stops at the doors that the device opens in the world of medicine. It is well known that many patients are reluctant to follow the dietary recommendations of their physicians when dietary restrictions are necessary.. The obesity, the hypertension, hormonal problems and other pathologies can force a person to abandon consumption habits deeply ingrained in their being. Who wouldn't rebel if they had to put aside all the candy? Wouldn't it be inconvenient to reduce salt consumption when fried foods are among our favorite dishes?? The Norimaki synthesizer could help to cope better with the diets imposed by the doctors header.

On the other hand, This interface has the potential to provide great value in situations where the person does not have access to food for an extended period of time, or despite having access, this is inconvenient. The most representative case would be a transatlantic flight in which the passenger is confined to his seat at all times, unable to move. The prices of meals on airplanes are prohibitive, but offering this type of service is also problematic for airlines, In order to provide this service, specific facilities are required on the plane that, in addition to occupying space, do not help to generate profits.. Airline profitability is low, and eliminating food service on its flights would be an expected goal if the Norimaki synthesizer were to normalize.

In any case, technology is still in its infancy. It is worth thinking about what scenarios could appear in the restaurant sector if these systems were developed in the coming years. Could a flavor chip that the diner insert their mouth to enjoy a unique experience? Will they need chefs with programming skills? Can this technology really be accommodated in restaurants??

If something has taught us the digital transformation restaurants that we have lived in recent years is that there is no idea, As far-fetched as it may seem at first, that is not taken advantage of by catering professionals when the optimum moment finally arrives. Taking this into account, the digitization of flavors could be, simply, the next barrier to overcome.

About the Author

Article by the editorial team of DiegoCoquillat.com. It has professionals both in the field of hospitality, gastronomy and tourism, and new technologies and innovation.


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