Listening to what the tongue feels

Dutch food researcher NIZO has developed a new technology that records and analyzes the sound of the tongue rubbing against food, which can be used to predict the sensory effects of food innovations.

February 1, 2013

Dutch food researcher NIZO has developed a new technology that records and analyzes the sound of the tongue rubbing against food, which can be used to predict the sensory effects of food innovations. This technology would enable food scientists to determine the creaminess or astringency of new foods.

When formulating for low-fat or low-carb products, developers have to deal with a significant change in mouthfeel and need to compensate for these changes. Currently, standard rheology measurements are used to determine viscosity. More relevant is the way a product changes the friction of surfaces, and for this reason tribology is often attempted. However, the plastic or stainless steel surfaces used in tribometers cannot sufficiently mimic the soft, mucous-coated papillary surface of a live tongue.

A new technology, called “acoustic tribology” records and analyzes the sound generated by rubbing or tapping of the tongue in the mouth during mastication. The inventor, George van Aken, explains that the sound produced by rubbing or tapping is caused by the same vibrations of the tissue that are sensed by the mechanoreceptors in the tongue that signal the sensation of roughness, stickiness, structural coarseness of any food (fluid, semi-solid, and solid). Acoustic tribology is non-invasive, measures in real time, and can be applied directly on human subjects without any preconditioning or preparation of the body surfaces.

“The advantage of acoustic tribology is that we measure where the consumer experiences the food: in the mouth,” said van Aken. “It gives objective information about the suppleness of movements and thus the lubricating behavior of the food on the tongue.”

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