An artificial "tongue" which can taste detect differences between varieties of Scotch whisky could help tackle the counterfeit alcohol trade, according to Glasgow scientists.

Engineers from the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde in Scotland created a tiny taster device made of gold and aluminum and measured how it absorbed light when submerged in different kinds of whisky.

Analysis of the results allowed the scientists to identify the samples from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig with more than 99% accuracy.

The study, published in the Royal Society of Chemistry's journal Nanoscale, involved arranging sub-microscopic slices of the two metals in a checkerboard pattern of "tastebuds" around 500 times smaller than those on a human tongue.

Scientists measured their plasmonic resonance, or the tiny difference in how much light they absorb, to identify the types of whisky.

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They found the technology was even capable of picking up on the subtler distinctions between the same brand aged in different barrels, with more than 99% accuracy and able to tell the difference between those aged for 12, 15 and 18 years.

The project could be extended to tasting other liquids, said the paper's lead author, Alasdair Clark, from the University of Glasgow's School of Engineering.

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."

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Dr Clark added: "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."

Whisky is poured over a chequerboard pattern of the two metals - which act as "tastebuds" - and researchers then measure how they absorb light while submerged.

Subtle differences which were highlighted on the artificial tongue allowed the team to identify different types of the spirit.

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

Research was conducted by engineers and chemists from the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde.