Artificial ‘tongue’ can single out fake whisky

Writer:   | Editor: Shang Ye  | From:  | Updated: 2019-08-14

Scientists have created an artificial “tongue” that can single out counterfeit whiskies.

The taster is made from sub-microscopic slices of gold and metal arranged in a checkerboard pattern, creating “tastebuds” that are around 500 times smaller that the human equivalent.

Statistical analysis of the subtle differences in how the metals absorb light allowed the “tongue” to identify different types of whisky.

The team used a selection of whisky from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig to test the invention. It was able to “taste” the differences between the drinks with more than 99 percent accuracy, picking up differences resulting from barrel type and length of maturation.

As such, researchers say the “tongue” could be used to single out fake whisky, in addition to food safety testing, quality control and security.

“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,” said Alasdair Clark of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering.

“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 whisky 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.”

The research has been published in a paper titled “Whisky tasting using a bimetallic nanoplasmonic tongue,” in the Nanoscale journal.

According to whisky consultancy and brokerage RW101, fake whisky is “infiltrating* all routes to markets,” with around US$52 million worth of high-end counterfeits in the world today.