Researchers from the University of Montreal developed a tongue made of gold nanoparticles that can quickly taste and categorize maple syrup. The tongue changes color to indicate how a sample of maple syrup tastes. The results are visible to the naked eye in seconds. The tongue was developed to help producers streamline their maple syrup production process.

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Maple syrup is a concentrated sugar solution of 66 percent sucrose, 33 percent water and one percent flavor profiles. There are 60 categories of taste for maple syrup. The flavor of maple syrup changes according to many factors, including the harvest period, region, production and storage methods, and weather.

Maple syrup has similar molecular complexity to wine, delicate tastes without bitterness and a subtle aroma. Currently, human tasters judge which profile a new batch of syrup fits into.

The tongue helps producers quickly and efficiently sort syrups. It is simpler than the human tongue. It can’t distinguish complex flavor profiles but it can detect flavor differences in maple syrup.

The device was validated by analyzing 1,818 samples of maple syrup from different regions in Quebec. The syrups represented various known aroma profiles and colors of syrup from golden to dark brown. The tongue takes into account a product’s olfactory and taste properties. The tongue test is similar to a pH test for a swimming pool. Drops of syrup are poured onto the gold nanoparticle device and sit ten seconds for analyzation.

If the tongue turns red, the syrup has premium characteristics and is the best kind to be exported and sold directly to the consumer. If the tongue turns blue, the syrup has some kind of flavor defect. There is nothing directly wrong with this syrup, it just doesn’t have the right characteristics for selling straight to consumers and it is better used as industrial syrup in food processing.

Researchers say that the tongue could be further developed for tasting wine or fruit juice in the future.

A paper on this technology was published in Analytical Methods.