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New taste simulator allows you to digitally sample food

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 (YouTube)

Ever watch your favorite Food Network show and wish you could taste that chicken dish, or long for a nibble of that chocolate chip cookie you see on your favorite food blog?  

Your wildest foodie dreams may soon be realized thanks to a new instrument that allows users to actually taste food virtually. 

Developed by researchers at the National University of Singapore, the digital taste simulator works by putting two thin metal slabs in your mouth --one placed on top of the tongue, the other underneath-- that send alternating currents and trick your taste buds into thinking you've eaten something delicious. 

"By manipulating the magnitude of current, frequency, and temperature -- both heating and cooling -- thus far salty, sour, and bitter sensations have been successfully generated," lead researcher, Nimesha Ranasinghe, told The Telegraph.

The recently discovered fifth taste, umami, has not yet been added.  Also, the simulator doesn't simulate smell and texture, important components of taste, although the team is working on ways to develop those features.

The device can be used to taste hunger-inducing foods seen on TV and computer screens and may be a way to give out digital rewards in video games. But Ranasinghe says future possibilities for the simulator go beyond pure entertainment purposes.  

“People with diabetes might be able to use the taste synthesizer to simulate sweet sensations without harming their actual blood sugar levels,”  Ranasinghe told the New Scientist. “Cancer patients could use it to improve or regenerate a diminished sense of taste during chemotherapy.”

If the thought of shoving metal rods in your mouth sounds a little unappetizing, Ranasinghe's team is working on a smaller version that can fit on a stick, like a digital lollipop.

Check out the video below to see it in action.