Golden artificial tongue used to taste maple syrup
Scientists at the Université de Montréal have found a way to use real gold — in the form of nanoparticles — as a kind of artificial ‘tongue’, to quickly determine how maple syrup tastes. The new method is validated in a study published in Analytical Methods, the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom.
The tongue is a colorimetric test that detects changes in colour to show how a sample of maple syrup tastes. The result is visible to the naked eye in a matter of seconds and is useful to producers.
“The artificial tongue is simpler than a human tongue: it can’t distinguish the complex flavour profiles that we can detect. Our device works specifically to detect flavour differences in maple syrup as it’s being produced,” said Jean-François Masson, a UdeM chemistry professor who led the study.
The artificial tongue was validated by analysing 1818 samples of maple syrup from different regions of Quebec, representing the various known aromatic profiles and colours of syrup, from golden to dark brown.
“We designed the tongue at the request of the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers to detect the presence of different flavour profiles. The tool takes into account the product’s olfactory and taste properties,” said Simon Forest, the study’s first author.
Researchers likened the artificial tongue to a pH test for a swimming pool; the test is performed by pouring a few drops of syrup into the gold nanoparticle reagent, and waiting about 10 seconds. If the result stays in the red spectrum, it is used for premium quality syrup. If the test turns blue, the syrup may have a flavour ‘defect’ so it may be used as an industrial syrup in processing.
“It doesn’t mean the syrup is not good for consumption or that it has a different sugar level. It just may not have the usual desired characteristics, and so can’t be sold directly in bottles to consumers,” said Masson, of the ‘blue’ type syrup, which can be used as a natural sweetener in other products.
The artificial tongue could potentially be adapted for tasting wine or fruit juice in future. It may also be useful in other agrifood contexts.
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