Replicating food is no longer relegated to "Star Trek" fantasies. It’s real life. Or, at least, it’s real ersatz.
Scientists out of the National University of Singapore’s Interactive and Digital Media Institute along with researchers out of the Georgia Institute of Technology say they’ve discovered a way to “teleport” – as in send digitally – the “flavor experience” of a glass of lemonade.
This goes way beyond 3D-printing, or even the recent developments in clean meat technology. This is the future where a computer magically makes your favorite food appear in seconds while you float around in your spaceship some six million light years from earth. Commence countdown, Major Tom.
The scientists say they developed a type of sensor that’s capable of detecting key information about the "real" glass of lemonade including its color and pH value, as well as its sourness and sweetness. That information is then sent digitally to another user who will experience what the lemonade tastes like even though they're only drinking a glass of tap water.
FoodNavigtor explains: “The person who wants to send the drink virtually dips the sensor into the beverage and then sends data to a friend, who, when taking a sip of water from a special custom-made, connected glass, will taste the same flavor as the original lemonade.”
Are they drinking “real” lemonade? No. Not yet. So it's not a substitute for any nutritional value at present. But the ability to edit how the human brain perceives that glass of water is a critical development beyond the Star Trek cool factor, and could hold a number of applications, from allowing consumers to try something before they buy it (hello, $8 kombucha), to helping create the experience of eating or drinking foods that aren’t so healthy for us (like, ahem, sugary lemonade), but without the caloric load.
With the obesity epidemic still rising in the U.S. and around the world, this last piece could play a significant role, particularly for children who may be easily sated with a sip of computer-generated lemonade water.
The team has reportedly also been working to use the technology to develop healthy foods that are more tasty; the researchers say for elderly people as an example, who may have lost taste bud abilities, this tech could make food more palatable, encouraging healthy eating at all stages of the life cycle.
For now though, you'll still have to queue up Captain Picard and imagine your computer's fan is making all that noise because it's really trying to push out that cupcake. Engage.