Kirin's electric spoon leaps from Ig Nobel infamy to the dinner table


An employee of Kirin Holdings demonstrates an electric spoon, jointly developed with Meiji University's School of Science and Technology professor Homei Miyashita, that can enhance the salty taste in food, in Tokyo, May 20, 2024. REUTERS/Tom Bateman/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese drinks giant Kirin Holdings will start selling an electrified spoon that researchers claim can promote healthier eating by enhancing salty tastes without extra sodium.

Monday's product launch marks the first commercialisation of technology that last year won an Ig Nobel Prize, which honours unusual and whimsical research.

Kirin will sell just 200 of its Electric Salt Spoons online for 19,800 yen ($127) this month and a limited run at a Japanese retailer in June, but is hoping for 1 million users globally within five years. Sales overseas will start next year.

The spoon, made of plastic and metal, was co-developed with Meiji University professor Homei Miyashita, who previously demonstrated the taste-enhancing effect in prototype electric chopsticks. The effect works by passing a weak electric field from the spoon to concentrate sodium ion molecules on the tongue to enhance the perceived saltiness of the food.

Kirin, which is pivoting towards healthcare from its traditional beer business, said the technology has particular significance in Japan, where the average adult consumes about 10 grams of salt per day, double the amount recommended by the World Health Organization.

Excess sodium intake is related to increased incidence of high blood pressure, strokes and other ailments.

"Japan has a food culture that tends to favour salty flavours," said Kirin researcher Ai Sato. "Japanese people as a whole need to reduce the amount of salt intake but it can be difficult to move away from what we're used to eating.

"That's what led us to develop this electric spoon."

Weighing 60 grams, the spoon runs on a rechargeable lithium battery.

Miyashita and his co-creator, Hiromi Nakamura, were presented with the Ig Nobel Nutrition Prize by immunologist and Nobel Prize laureate Peter Doherty in an online ceremony last year.

($1 = 155.8400 yen)

(This story has been refiled to fix the spelling of 'Nobel' in the headline)

(Reporting by Tom Bateman; Writing by Rocky Swift; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Susan Fenton)

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