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Nerve stimulation in raw or cooked foods?

Seattle Food Geek

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This may sound like a creepy question, but I'm looking for resources related to nerve stimulation. My holy grail is to stimulate the nerve bundles that control the muscles in octopus skin that allow it to appear to change color. I think it would be fascinating to serve a cooked octopus tentacle that could change color in front of the diner, if it were connected to a battery and microcontroller.

But, I'm OK starting with getting dead chickens to twitch.

Can anyone point me to a good starting place?


Co-Founder, CMO


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Out of curiosity, is this part of a science project?

In Japan they serve a special kind of sashimi in which the fish is presented just after being killed, and so the gills and mouth continue to move even thought the body has been filleted. My understanding is that the trick works because there's still mitochondrial energy in the cell to fuel the movement. Wouldn't cooking the flesh change the chemical composition within the never cells making it impossible to make the cooked flesh move? Raw, your project might work.

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I don't know about effecting color change, but if there's any chance of making anything twitch a TENS (transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) unit would be a good bet. An internet search will yield lots of options.


Larry Lofthouse

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Nope, not a science project exactly, though most of what I attempt in the kitchen resembles one.

I've heard of the sashimi technique, but I wasn't quite sure what forces were at play. Thanks for the info! I'm thinking of starting by using a TENS nerve stimulator (http://www.amazon.com/Prosepra-PL009-Electronic-Pulse-Massager/dp/B000XHNBLU/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_cart_1) connected to needles poked into nerve bundles. However, I don't know it it only works on living muscle or if it would do anything for dead tissue. Cooked/uncooked is the next level of the issue.

Co-Founder, CMO


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You'll probably have a hard time getting that to work. In order for nerve stimulation to occur, the ion transporters in the neurons have to work, and that probably won't be possible after cooking or if the animal has been dead from any period of time. Sure the ion channels *might* open once, upon electric stimulation, but theres probably no way the ion pumps are going to function after the cells are dead. If there's any chance of that working, I'm sure you'll have to have live octopus, then cook it very quickly and lightly. One more thought: if you get a live octopus, you might try stimulating it with a TENS (or find, remove, and quickly stimulate a large nerve) to ensure that you can induce a color change. It might also be difficult to figure out which nerves you need to stimulate; if applied to a whole tissue, a TENS will likely stimulate all the nerves, which could induce all the color-changing effects, and result is practically nothing occurring.

All that being said, good luck, and let us know what you find!

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Because of the way cephalopod chromatophores work, I seriously doubt they would operate after cooking. Their function involves the cell itself as well as surrounding muscle and nerve tissue. I think they're toast, once you denature their proteins by application of heat.

In a very fresh raw state, you might get a response but the neural activity involved in a live octopus seems pretty darn complex. A quick scan of some literature turns up studies in which individual nerves and nerve branches were stimulated to elicit chromatophore response but I'm skeptical that a generalized 'brute force' stimulation would work. But you never know until you try.

You might find this Wikipedia article interesting, if not helpful. Scroll down to section 6 for information about cehpalopods.

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