These Chopsticks Make Your Food Taste Saltier Without Adding More Salt

Move aside, Salt Bae.
chopsticks, food, technology, japan, electricity, umami, salt, sodium, high blood pressure, health
Homei Miyashita, a lead researcher for this project, says he uses the chopsticks practically everyday. Photo: Courtesy of Homei Miyashita

Foodies may no longer have to reach for a salt shaker if their dishes lack savor.

Japanese scientists have developed chopsticks that amplify the saltiness of food without having to add salt. This could greatly help those on a low-sodium diet, researchers say, while delivering a key flavor.

To simulate the saltiness, a weak electrical current that’s barely felt is used to transmit sodium ions from the food to the mouth, as it travels through the chopsticks. The current runs through a wristband, which the eater must wear while using the utensils. 

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In Japan, where high blood pressure levels—a result of too much salt intake—afflicts over 25 percent of the population, sodium levels in food are a concern for many.

chopsticks, food, technology, japan, electricity, umami, salt, sodium, high blood pressure, health

The chopstick prototype. Photo: Courtesy of Homei Miyashita

According to the World Health Organization’s standards, an adult should only eat about five grams of salt daily. The average Japanese, however, consumes double that amount every day. High blood pressure as a result of increased salt intake is the leading cause of strokes and heart attacks, which the Japanese health ministry cited in 2020 as a reason to lower the recommended daily consumption levels of sodium to 7.5 grams and 6.5 grams for men and women, respectively, from 8 grams and 7 grams in 2015.

But forgoing salt, a simple and common tactic to reduce salt intake, can make food taste bland. 

That’s why Homei Miyashita, the lead researcher of this project and a media science professor at Meiji University, thought to simulate saltiness using utensils. In cooperation with beverage maker Kirin, Miyashita successfully created what he claims is the world’s first chopsticks that enhance the salty flavor in food.

“You can feel the salty effect when you put the food in your mouth using the chopstick device, or you can also feel the salty taste when you press the chopstick device itself against your tongue,” he told VICE World News.

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Miyashita and Kirin plan to introduce the chopsticks to the market some time in 2023 or 2024.

chopsticks, food, technology, japan, electricity, umami, salt, sodium, high blood pressure, health

In order to eat with the chopsticks, the wristband, from which the current runs, has to be worn. Photo: Courtesy of Homei Miyashita​

chopsticks, food, technology, japan, electricity, umami, salt, sodium, high blood pressure, health

Miyashita and his team asked 36 people to sample the chopsticks. Photo: Courtesy of Homei Miyashita

In a trial, 36 men and women were asked to sample two types of gels, one with sodium levels imitating regular food and another that simulated low-sodium food. They then tried the low-sodium gel with the electric chopsticks, and were asked to rank how all three tasted in terms of perceived saltiness. The result was that the electric chopsticks made the low-sodium gel taste 1.5 times saltier than eating with regular chopsticks.

The chopsticks were also used to pick up chunks of kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) and daikon (white radish) in low-salt miso soup to test the findings, and reports of enhanced umami and improved flavor were recorded.

“I personally use these chopsticks every day,” he said, adding that he found miso soup and sweet and sour pork particularly tasty. 

Similar methods have been used to develop utensils that simulate a salty flavor. 

In 2016, researcher Hiromi Nakamura at the University of Tokyo developed a fork that made food saltier. Her product’s prototype was tested at a pop-up in Japan, but failed to get much traction—the fork isn’t available for purchase. 

Miyashita’s laboratory has previously explored how technology can enhance human perceptions. In December, he developed a lickable TV screen that can imitate food flavors, which he hoped would create a multisensory experience for viewers.

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