'Artificial tongue' can tell fine whiskey from hooch

It's a whiskey connoisseur like no other.

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Sebastian Hahn
Sebastian Hahn

Are you absolutely sure you can tell the difference between a top-tier whiskey that comes in a handcrafted wooden box and the cheapest one from a grocery's liquor aisle? Uwe Bunz's synthetic tongue can, and it leaves no room for doubt. It can differentiate between every bottle of whiskey based on their brand, age, blend and even country of origin. The researcher from Heidelberg University, Germany says it can't ID an unknown blend from scratch, but it can tell whether the sample you have is the same as a known one. "If you buy a crate of expensive whiskies," he said, "you can test if they are actually what you think they are."

While Bunz calls his creation an artificial tongue, it's actually a fluorescent solution. You simply mix in a whiskey sample if you want to identify it. In that sense, it works just like the organ. "Our human tongue consists of 6 or 7 different receptors -- sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami, and hotness -- and they're able to identify food by differential reactions of those elements," he said. "The combination of differential receptors gives you an overall taste impression of what you eat."

The solution was able to tell 33 different whiskies from each other during Bunz's tests, since it gives off a unique reaction for each one. Even better, it's much quicker and cheaper to use than current techniques employed to determine the authenticity of drinks. Bunz is now planning to create a version for red wine, but it has lots of other potential applications. According to his paper, it could also be used to detect counterfeit prescription drugs and perfumes in the future.

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