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Scientists tackle fakes

Artificial tongue may help lick whisky counterfeiters

Glenfiddich whisky

Taste test: various brands have been sampled

An artificial ‘tongue’ which can taste subtle differences between drams of whisky could help cut down on the trade in counterfeit alcohol, scientists say.

Scottish engineers have built a tiny taster which exploits the optical properties of gold and aluminium to test whisky samples.

The team used the tongue to sample a selection of whiskies from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig.

It was able to taste the differences between the drinks with greater than 99% accuracy and capable of picking up on the subtler distinctions between the same whisky aged in different barrels, as well as identifying the difference between the same whisky aged for 12, 15 and 18 years.

Dr Alasdair Clark, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, is the paper’s lead author. He said: “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.

“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. 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.”

The paper, titled ‘Whisky tasting using a bimetallic nanoplasmonic tongue’, is published in Nanoscale.

The research, which was conducted by engineers and chemists from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, was supported by funding from the Leverhulme Trust, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.



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