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New flavor-enhancing cutlery could help users reduce sugar, salt


By Lynn Allison From Newsmax

A team of research students has designed a spoon that stimulates taste buds to produce a sensation of sweetness. This could be helpful for anyone with a sweet tooth, and particularly for those with diabetes, which affects 11.3 % of the population, who need to limit sugar consumption. The spoon idea was spawned from a previous Japanese project in which researchers charged chopsticks with electrical currents that amplified saltiness.

According to Scientific American, the spoon, called Sugarware, is covered with bumps on its underside, creating a greater surface area to press against the tongue. The bumps are covered with a permanent layer of molecules called ligands. These ligands bind with receptor proteins in the mouth that typically react to sugar molecules or artificial sweeteners. The diner using this spoon experiences a cascade of nerve signals to the brain signaling the sensation of sweetness.

University of Oxford psychologist Charles Spence, who was not involved in the Sugarware project, speculates from past research that the bumpy texture of the spoon feels differently in the mouth and makes the taste buds “sit up and take notice.” Shiyu Xu, one of the graduate researchers who developed Sugarware, says his team studied a Japanese project by Homei Miyashita of Meiji University whose team created ways to stimulate salt receptors in the tongue. Miyashita’s team developed specialized chopsticks with a weak electrical current running through the cutlery, shifting sodium ions in a mouthful of food to excite the tongue’s salt receptors.

The team reported that their chopsticks increased diners’ perception of saltiness in food by one and a half times, says Scientific American.  A U.S. company, Taste Boosters, uses a similar microcurrent-based approach for its utensil called SpoonTEK to stimulate the tongue to enhance the sense of taste.

Both the chopsticks and the SpoonTEK do the same thing. They stimulate the taste buds without the diner consuming salt or sugar. Bu Xu points out that his technology is different. It uses texture and tastebud stimulating molecules instead of electricity.

Besides salt and sugar, the Sugarware researchers are interested in reducing the consumption of artificial sweeteners that have been linked to numerous health conditions. Israeli researcher and immunologist Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute of Science, says that, based on his research, artificial sweeteners should no longer be assumed safe. According to The Times of Israel, Elinav says that consuming  saccharin and sucralose harms the ability of healthy adults to dispose of glucose in their body and actually increases sugar levels. “Our trial has shown that non-nutritive sweeteners may impair glucose responses by altering our microbiome,” said Elinav.

While experts are uncertain if the flavor-enhancing utensils will catch on, the Japanese researchers will continue to develop their electric chopsticks and the Sugarware team are working on a prototype. In the meantime, experts say you can still try the technique by playing around with different dining utensils. Previous research has shown that the weight, color and shape of cutlery can affect the perceived taste of food.

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