E-tongue doesn't fatigue but won't replace human wine tasters

09/27/2013 10:06:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

electronic tongueCourtesy Washington State UniversityDoctoral candidate Charles Diako works with the e-tongue.After a while of tasting, the human tongue can become fatigued.

But an electronic tongue developed by Washington State University is as sharp on the first taste as it is on the last taste of the day, according to a news release.

If need be, it can taste round the clock.

No where is taste more critical than in the wine industry.

The e-tongue works by dipping a "tongue" into a beaker on a rotating platform known as an autosampler.

It then evaluates for a number of sensory attributes, such as metallic, savory, sweet and bitter.

After a brief pause to run the evaluation on a molecular level, the tongue moves to the next beaker.

Although it never fatigues, the e-tongue won't replace human taste panels and sommeliers, at least not in the near future.

The mechanical sensor, for example, can't pick up subtle nuances within a wine, such as mouthfeel, tanic or "chewy."

The human tongue is the primary taste organ of the body,” Charles Diako, a doctoral candidate working with the e-tongue, said in the release. “Being a living tissue and being integrated with the most sophisticated computer the world has ever known—the brain—its perception of taste is absolutely matchless.”

Where the e-tongue excels is in evaluating a large number of wines with standardized and objective measurements.

The university's sensory lab is currently looking at 60 red wines from the state and plans a follow-up study on the same number of white wines from Washington.

The information will be useful to growers and winemakers, since a good wine begins with good grapes and good vineyard cultural practices, according to the release.

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