Electronic tongue accurately tastes different potencies of spicy foods


An electronic tongue, or ‘e-tongue’, has been developed the can taste the potency of spicy foods more accurately than sensitive human taste buds.

The developers from Washington State University found that the e-tongue is very accurate at telling the difference of spiciness between samples of the same food.

While thousands of new spicy products hit supermarket shelves every year, it can be difficult for testers to accurately taste the strength of the burn as spicy food wears out taste buds quickly.

Recent WSU graduate Courtney Schlossareck and her advisor, Carolyn Ross, described the e-tongue in a paper just published in Journal of Food Science.

“At low concentrations, or low spiciness, it’s hard to discriminate between two samples,” said Schlossareck, who has just graduated with a master’s degree. “It’s also hard to tell a difference between two samples at high concentrations.”

The e-tongue’s ability to differentiate between the spiciness of foods could come in handy for the industry.

Another problem with testing spicy foods is that people can only test a few samples before their taste buds give out. After a few bites, taste buds can’t distinguish differences in taste at all. But the e-tongue can handle as much heat as any scientist can throw at it and maintain accuracy.

“This would allow testers to narrow a selection down to two or three samples for a human tasting panel if they start from 20 different formulations,” Schlossareck said. “That would take days to do with people tasting them.”

That’s because real people need to wait at least five minutes between samples. And even then, only a few samples can be tested because the spiciness lingers and can throw off results, she said.

Earlier this week a team from the same university demonstrated a sensor that can “smell” whether milk has gone bad, potentially putting an end to expiry dates.

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