Taste sensing device uses nano-technology to detect subtle differences in flavour and identify counterfeit whisky products.
An artificial ‘tongue’ which can taste subtle differences between drams of whisky could help cut down on the trade in counterfeit alcohol, according to a team of scientists from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde.
The miniature taste sensor exploits the optical properties of gold and aluminium to test different whisky samples.
Sub-microscopic nano-scale slices of the two metals, arranged in a checkerboard pattern, act as the ‘tastebuds’ in the team’s artificial tongue. The researchers poured samples of whisky over the tastebuds – which are about 500 times smaller than their human equivalents – and measured how they absorb light while submerged.
Statistical analysis of the very subtle differences in how the metals in the artificial tongue absorb light – what scientists call their plasmonic resonance – allowed the team to identify different types of whiskies.
The tongue was able to taste the differences between different premium brands of whisky with greater than 99% accuracy. It was capable of picking up on the subtler distinctions between the same whisky aged in different barrels, and tell the difference between the same whisky aged for 12, 15 and 18 years.
Dr Alasdair Clark of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering explains that it is called an artificial tongue because it acts similarly to a human tongue. “Like us, it can’t identify the individual chemicals which make coffee taste different to apple juice but it can easily tell the difference between these complex chemical mixtures.
Although the research was focused on whisky, the artificial tongue could easily be used to ‘taste’ virtually any liquid, which means it could be used for a wide variety of applications.
“In addition to its obvious potential for use in identifying counterfeit alcohols, it could be used in food safety testing, quality control, security – really any area where a portable, reusable method of tasting would be useful,” says clark.