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Spanish scientists working on ‘electronic tongue’

Researchers in Spain are working on an 'electronic tongue' that can identify different types of Cava wines, and automatically produces classifications similar to those used by sommeliers.

The device, developed at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, will initially be used to detect flaws in the cava production process.

It mimics the human taste system via a combination of chemical measurement tools and advanced mathematical software techniques.

Crucially, the device is able to precisely quantify the amount of sugar added after secondary fermentation during the cava wine production process.

This ability enables sommelier-like classification of cava wines from the low-sugar Brut nature (typically, less than 3 grams of sugar per litre) to the sugar-laden Sweet (more than 50 grams per litre).

Sommeliers need not worry, Manel del Valle, the lead scientist on the project says, because the electronic tongue is more suited to automated testing on a winery production floor and can not distinguish nuance.

‘The sommelier will be always the one with personal treatment, let’s say in the restaurant. This personal treatment will be never replaced by a machine,’ explains del Valle.

The outlook may not be so bright for wine industry sensory panels however.

With its ability to detect flaws in the production process, the electronic tongue ‘may be a replacement for the sensory panel used by many food and beverage companies,’ says del Valle.

The Universitat Autònoma is a separate organisation to the Barcelona Institute of Microelectronics, which was working on a computerised tongue in 2008 that could detect different grape varieties.

Image: Manel del Valle, UniversitatAutònoma de Barcelona

Written by Emmet Cole

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