Researchers in Japan have developed 'virtual reality' tasters that recreate the experience of eating, in an effort to help fine-tune diets for elderly people.

The taste simulator is based on recorded data relating to different sensations involved in eating, for example the strength required to bite different foods. The technology will be used to help elderly people to eat a wider range of foods, perhaps including meat or biscuits that are specially designed to be easier to chew.

A research team at the University of Tsukuba is behind the taste simulator, which uses biological sensors made from lipid and polymer membranes to record the main chemical constituents of the food's taste. A microphone records the audible vibrations of the jawbone while chewing, and the data is then processed by the simulator.

The simulator, which has cloth and metal covers, is then put into the subject's mouth, designed to resist the user's bite as the real foodstuff would, reports BBC Online. A tube releases a mixture of chemicals which stimulate the five basic taste sensations; sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami - the taste of monosodium glutamate.

The research is published in New Scientist.