Thu, Aug 08, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Artificial ‘tongue’ can distinguish between whiskeys

AFP, LONDON

University of Glasgow lecturer Alasdair Clark holds a scaled-up version of the materials that make up an artificial “tongue” in an undated handout photograph released on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP / University of Glasgow

Scientists on Monday said they have come up with an artificial “tongue” that can distinguish subtle differences between whiskeys.

Experts at the University of Glasgow have built the miniature taster that can even tell the difference between the same brand aged in different barrels, with more than 99 percent accuracy.

It can also distinguish between whiskeys aged 12, 15 and 18 years, and can identify a host of different chemicals within a complex mixture.

It could be used not only for quality control, but also to combat the booming counterfeit alcohol trade — the method found several hugely expensive bottles of whiskey to be fake.

“We call this an artificial tongue, because it acts similarly to a human tongue,” said Alasdair Clark, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering. “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.”

Whiskey is poured over a checkerboard pattern of tiny pieces of gold and aluminum — which act as “taste buds” — and researchers then measure how they absorb light while submerged.

Slight color changes in the gold and aluminum pieces are measured to build up a statistical profile for each of the samples.

“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,” Clark said.

Valuation and consultancy service Rare Whisky 101 last year in laboratory tests found that of 55 “rare” Scotch whiskies bought on the secondary market, 21 were fake.

The 21 bottles collectively could have been valued at about £635,000 (US$770,631), had they been genuine.

Annabel Meikle, director of the Keepers of the Quaich, a society of whiskey experts, said that the industry would welcome the technology.

“We really, as an industry, would welcome something which would help to stamp out the counterfeit whiskey,” she told BBC radio. “I don’t think the master blenders are going to be quaking in their boots, but really quite grateful.”

Meikle said that she could identify counterfeit whiskey by taste, but the technology could be used to replace some of the vast amount of routine human taste checking.

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