Think of it like music, but for your taste buds. Confused? Well, the people in this illustration from 1926 probably were too.
The July 1926 issue of Science and Invention magazine raved about the advances being made in alternative-organ technology. Composers of the future wouldn't just be making beautiful music, they were going to create a symphony of tastes.
A reporter named C.F. Schurch was said to have actually built one of these contraptions, a "taste organ" that relied on a French scholar's theory of "taste harmonies."
So how was it supposed to work? The "listener," as the magazine described them, had to hold a small tube in their mouth. The taste organist was then able to manipulate different substances that were fed through tubes by way of the keyboard in front of him.
"Various concentrated liquids can be injected either singly or in the correct combinations," the magazine explained. The tastes all sound perfectly reasonable on their own (including orange, lemon, raspberry, cherry, lime and others) but it's hard to imagine that many of them would taste very good together.
"It is problematical if satisfactory jazz effects could be produced by this instrument, and how about the Charleston?" the magazine proclaimed, making reference to the newest music and dance crazes of that decade.
Needless to say, the idea behind the "taste organ" didn't catch on, but the concept didn't die off completely. Today researchers in Singapore have developed an electrode that you place on your tongue which can reproduce different flavors. It doesn't quite capture the analog weirdness of a flavored paste pumped into your mouth through a tube by a tuxedo'd conductor. But that's probably for the best.
Image: Scanned from the July 1926 issue of Science and Invention magazine