Innovative ‘Electronic Tongue’ Detects Flaws in White Wine Before Human Tasters Can

By | 20 April 2024

An ‘electronic tongue’ exceeded human perception in a test examining early detection of deterioration or flaws in white wine, according to researchers in a recently conducted study.

In an experiment conducted at Washington State University (WSU), it was found that the e-tongue could identify certain microbial presence within a week of contamination – this was four weeks earlier than any changes were noticed by a human sensory panel in relation to some wine aromas.

The discovered results, which have been published in the Journal of Food Science, add to growing evidence that supports the utilization of e-tongue technology in aiding the early identification of faults in wines.

The electronic tongue works through its sensory probes that are submerged in liquid and can subsequently recognize the existence of certain compounds.

In their latest experiment, researchers intentionally added microbes connected with spoilage and unpleasant smells to Riesling wines, leaving some bottles untouched to maintain ‘control’ samples.

The wines were tested at seven-day intervals over a 42-day storage period, comparing the electronic tongue to a volunteer sensory panel.

The panelists received advance training on how to identify various wine aromas considered good and bad, ranging from apple, honey and baking spice notes to those described as mousy, vegetal and similar to nail polish remover.

The study’s authors acknowledged that some spoilage-related aromas may add to a wine’s complexity when present at low levels.

Wines were served at ambient temperatures – around 22°C – and the panel used a ‘rate-all-that-apply’ method, they added.

‘If you ran a sample using the electronic tongue, we could learn after one week if there’s contamination or a wine fault problem, versus waiting up to four weeks running just sensory testing,’ said Carolyn Ross, WSU food science professor and one of the study’s authors.

Researchers added that the e-tongue was also able to ‘taste’ signs of faults before microbes could be grown from the wine in a petri-dish.

Ross and colleagues previously conducted a similar study with red wines, which also suggested the e-tongue could assist with early detection of faults.

It’s thought the technology could have several applications, and it has been programmed to ‘fingerprint’ certain wines, too, according to WSU.

But, the team said the e-tongue is best used to complement human analysis, rather than replace it.

The latest study was supported by the Washington Wine and Grape Research fund and the US Department of Agriculture.

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