Innovation That Matters

Artificial tongue can taste whiskeys apart

Food & Drink

A research team in Germany has invented a synthetic technique to differentiate between types of whiskey.


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Most people would think that testing different kinds of whiskey scientifically would just be a case of chemical analysis. However many of the higher end whiskeys have such similar chemical make ups that regular tests don’t work. It’s often down to experienced distillers to do the testing in the old fashioned way – by tasting the whiskey. A method that’s both subjective and hardly an absolute.

But a team from Germany’s Heidelberg University has made what’s been described as an “artificial tongue”, which is a handful of small bottles filled with polymer dyes that glows.

The test works by adding a drop of whiskey into each bottle, which then reacts to the individual mixture of all the chemicals present in the whiskey. The combination of different changes in the dyes’ fluorescences then becomes that whiskey’s ID, pretty much its DNA or fingerprint. No other whiskey will create the exact same combination of fluorescent mixtures, so if someone’s trying to sell a fraudulent product this will be able to test it apart.

Prof. Uwe Bunz, lead scientist on the project at Heidelberg explains: “We can use this to detect fake whiskies, if you buy a crate of expensive whiskies, you can test if they are actually what you think they are.”

He also said it could be adapted for a variety of different drinks that are chemically very similar and hard to tell apart. It’s not the only initiative that helps stop the spread of counterfeit products – Allvirtuous is a platform that helps businesses spot vulnerable links in the supply chain. And in Kenya, Miti Health is a non-profit that has made spotting fake pharmaceutical drugs easier and cheaper. What other areas of science could benefit from artificial tasting?



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