Dieting might not be so hard if unhealthy foods and drinks didn't taste so good, but a new device from the National University of Singapore (NUS) could let you taste your cake and not eat it, too. The Vocktail (Virtual Cocktail) digitally changes the way a drink tastes, smells and looks, sprucing up plain old water or fine-tuning an existing drink.

The new device is the result of years of work in reproducing flavors virtually. It began with a Digital Lollipop in 2013 that helped the NUS team work out how to simulate basic flavor types like sweet, sour, salty and bitter by applying electrical and thermal signals to the tongue. Earlier this year, the researchers developed a high-tech tumbler that allowed people to "teleport" the sourness and color of lemonade into a glass of water.

The Vocktail expands on the tech in the lemonade tumbler. Two silver electrodes on the rim send carefully controlled electrical signals to the tip of the tongue to simulate salty, sour or bitter flavors, and an LED in the bottom lights up the liquid in a preset color, which can influence the perception of taste.

Since smell is inextricably linked to taste, the Vocktail uses cartridges that puff scent molecules onto the surface of the drink as the user takes a sip. That system is powered by micro air pumps in the base of the glass, and the team says the three cartridges are as easily refillable as printer ink.

Altogether, those three stimuli combine to virtually recreate a wide range of drinks, and users can tweak the taste, smell and color through a mobile app. Those drink profiles can be shared with friends, too.

"You could walk into a bar and order a mojito and using the mobile application, customize it to your preference with, say, a chocolate aroma and a hint of banana or mango," says Nimesha Ranasinghe, lead researcher on the team. "Or you could customize water to taste like your preferred flavored beverage and save the money!"

The Vocktail might also help make dieting easier, by giving people the flavor with none of the sugar, salt or calories.

"Using this technology, salt can be delivered in a virtual manner without the health drawbacks," says Ranasinghe. "Likewise for diabetic patients, sugar consumption can be reduced dramatically without loss of sensory pleasure. It could also enhance quality of life for chemotherapy patients who have a reduced sense of taste. There are many applications that can be explored."

To really sell the illusion, the researchers are now working on ways to recreate other important aspects that influence flavor, such as fizziness and texture, and mass production is apparently in the works.

Drink in the Vocktail in the video below.

Source: National University of Singapore