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Scientists created an artificial tongue to identify counterfeit whisky

Posted August 27, 2019

Counterfeit products are hurting everyone. They are hurting economy, they are hurting actual owners of the brands and they are hurting the consumers who are not getting exactly what they paid for. Identifying counterfeit products is not that easy and requires an expert on a particular kind of alcohol. Now scientists from the University of Glasgow created and artificial “tongue”, which can taste, which beverage is legit.

Counterfeit whisky is hurting manufacturers and consumers, who are not getting what they are paying for. Image credit: ctj71081 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This tiny sensor, of course, is not really a tongue. It is more of an optical sensor, made using gold and aluminium. These two metals form a checkerboard pattern and act as the ‘taste buds’. In fact, they are better than normal taste buds in a way that they are about 500 times smaller and thus provide more “resolution” on the taste. In fact, this tiny sensor analyses light passing through the whisky or other alcoholic beverages.

Scientists analysed and measured how these artificial taste buds absorb light while submerged in whisky and managed to use this data to identify different kinds of the beverage. In this way, using what they are calling “plasmonic resonance”, scientists analysed a selection of whiskies from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig. Artificial tongue reached accuracy levels of 99 %. Not only it was able to detect different kinds of whisky, it could also taste the difference between the same whisky aged for 12, 15 and 18 years.

This is not the first artificial tongue in history. However, it is the first made up from two different types of nanoscale metal ‘tastebuds’. This technology allows for a very quick and accurate response. The sensor itself is rather small and the test could be optimized to be completed in seconds. This means that it would be fairly easy to detect counterfeit alcohol beverages.

But this invention is not just for whisky. Dr Alasdair Clark, lead author of the paper, said: “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”.

Ensuring the quality of various products is a top priority for small businesses. However, this kind of technology would most likely stay in high-end laboratories, where it would be much more useful.


Source: University of Glasgow

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