Universite de Montreal scientists develop syrup-tasting golden 'tongue'

Simon Forest is among the scientists at the Universite de Montreal's team that developed an artificial "tongue" made of gold that tastes maple syrup. SOURCE Amelie Philibert

The Universite de Montreal may have found a way to use gold to taste the province’s liquid gold.

UdeM scientists have been working with gold nanoparticles to find out how maple syrup tastes. The "artificial tongue" study was published in the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry journal Analytical Methods, and detects changes in colour to show how syrup samples taste.

The results are visible within seconds, according to a news release from UdeM.

"The artificial tongue is simpler than a human tongue: it can't distinguish the complex flavour profiles that we can detect,” said UdeM chemistry professor Jean-Francois Masson, who led the study. “Our device works specifically to detect flavour differences in maple syrup as it’s being produced."

The study tested 1,818 syrup samples from across Quebec for aromatic profiles and colours. The Quebec Maple Syrup Producers requested the tool to detect different flavour profiles of the molecularly complex maple syrup and its delicate taste.

Human tasters judge which profile each batch fits into.

"The development of the artificial tongue is intended to support the colossal work that is being done in the field to do the first sorting of syrups quickly and classify them according to their qualities," said Masson in the release.

To use the artificial tongue, researchers pour a few drops into the gold nanoparticle reagent and wait 10 seconds. If the result stays red, it is a premium quality syrup. If it’s blue, the syrup may have a flavour defect.

“It doesn't mean the syrup is not good for consumption or that it has a different sugar level,” Masson said of the “blue” type syrup, which the food industry uses as a natural sweetener in other products. “It just may not have the usual desired characteristics, and so can’t be sold directly in bottles to consumers.”

Maple syrup has around 60 categories of taste, similar to wine with its multitude of flavour profiles. Syrup is, in essence, around 66 per cent sucrose and 33 per cent water, with the one remaining per cent the other compounds that determine the taste.

Masson said the artificial tongue could be used in the future as a wine taster.

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