I used to read a lot of science fiction but, of all of the fantastic forward-looking gadgets that were predicted in the pages of those books and stories, I’m pretty sure that the electronic tongue was not among them. Which just goes to show that truth is apparently sometimes stranger than science fiction. An electronic tongue, by the way, is not a fancy prosthetic device for people whose tongues are missing or malfunctioning, but rather it’s a gadget that aids in the analysis of flavor compounds in foods and beverages.

Lots of great aromas in our China Tea Sampler (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Lots of great aromas in our China Tea Sampler (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Here’s a slightly more technical description of an electronic tongue from a group of Russian researchers who have been working with these gadgets: “electronic tongue is an analytical instrument comprising an array of non-specific, low selective chemical sensors with partial specificity (cross-sensitivity) to different components in solution, and an appropriate method of pattern recognition and/or multivariate calibration for the data processing.” Click here for more background on their efforts.

While experienced tea tasters (and probably quite a few of us tea lovers) might cringe at the notion of using an electronic device to taste tea that doesn’t mean that it never happens. There have actually been several studies published already this year in which electronic tongues and tea played a significant part. Some of these seem to cover similar territory, not surprisingly, given that this is a comparatively new technology for the tea industry.

One study by Indian researchers sought to test tea by “combining the responses of electronic nose and tongue.” They claimed that the use of experienced tea tasters was a method of assessment that “has numerous problems like inaccuracy and non-repeatability” and claimed that results from the electronic tongue were impressive. When Chinese researchers used an electronic tongue to test five different types of green tea they claimed that it could “could discriminate all of the samples very well.”

For links to these and a few other recent studies on tea and the electronic tongue, look here. If that’s not enough information about electronic sense organs, then click here for an overview of the electronic nose.

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