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Artificial ‘tongue’ can ‘taste’ fake whisky

Scientists have created an artificial “tongue” that they say can identify differences between whiskies with 99% accuracy and single out counterfeit products.

The ‘fake tongue’ is a composition of metal ‘taste buds’ 500 times smaller than their human equivalents

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

It was able to ‘taste’ the differences between the drinks with more than 99% accuracy, picking up differences resulting from barrel type and length of maturation.

As such, researchers say the ‘tongue’ could be used to suss out fake whiskies, 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 Dr 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 was conducted by engineers and chemists from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde. It 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 £41 million (US$52m) worth of high-end counterfeits in the world today.

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