An Electronic Tongue That Knows Its Sweeteners!
It's a sweet tongue not a sweet tooth but, after all, it is the tongue and not the tooth that contains one's taste sensors. The new electronic tongue has taste buds that biomimic our own but, so far, it only tastes sweets. What a lucky tongue!
Scientists at the University of Illinois have developed an inexpensive lab-on-the-chip sensor that can identify, with 100 percent accuracy, the whole range of sweeteners, from natural to artificial, including the brands of 14 different commonly used sweeteners. Now that's certainly better than my tongue can do.
The sensor was developed for the food processing industry to insure taste consistency in its products... which may be cakes, cookies, candy, soda, beer, and several other sweet foods and drinks. Presently, the process used to measure sweetness is high-pressure liquid chromatography, which is very expensive, very large, and takes about 30 minutes to process.
The new electronic tongue is the size of a business card and takes about 2 minutes to develop, time in which the food manufacturer can fix the problem without stopping the process for very long. But the achievements of this sweet tongue have been a decade in coming.
Worth it, though.
"We take things that smell or taste and convert their chemical properties into a visual image," says study leader Kenneth Suslick, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "This is the first practical "electronic tongue" sensor that you can simply dip into a sample and identify the source of sweetness based on its color."
Christopher Musto, a doctoral student in Suslick's lab, says it will take more work to develop the technology into a complete electronic tongue. "To be considered a true electronic tongue, the device must detect not just sweet, but sour, salty, bitter, and umami — the five main human tastes," he says. Umami means meaty or savory.