Glasgow University engineers have created a new artificial tongue that can taste subtle differences between drams of whiskey, singling out the counterfeited ones.
According to the engineers, the artificial tongue’s main component is a tiny taster – sub-microscopic slices of the two metals arranged in a checkerboard pattern – which exploits the optical properties of gold and aluminium to test the tipples.
As part of their study, the engineers poured samples of whiskey over the tastebuds 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 – inferred to as Plasmonic Resonance – allowed the team to identify different types of whiskeys.
The team used the tongue to sample a selection of whiskeys from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig, and it was able to taste the differences between the drinks with greater than 99% accuracy.
According to the engineers, it was capable of picking up on the subtler distinctions between the same whiskey aged in different barrels, and tell the difference between the same whiskey aged for 12, 15 and 18 years.
“We call this 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,” notes the paper’s lead author, Dr Alasdair Clark.
“We’re not the first researchers to make an artificial tongue, but we’re the first to make a single artificial tongue that uses two different types of nanoscale metal ‘tastebuds’, which provides more information about the ‘taste’ of each sample and allows a faster and more accurate response.”
“While we’ve focused on whiskey in this experiment, the artificial tongue could easily be used to ‘taste’ virtually any liquid, which means it could be used for a wide variety of applications,” intones Clark.
“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.”
Image and content: Pikes Peak Celtic Festival/University of Glasgow