A Tasting Robot To The Rescue

The Lempert Report
March 15, 2016

What is a 30 year old tasting robot from the University of Minnesota's School Of Dentistry doing for food brands?

Just about every food brand is moving quickly to remove artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and shorten their list of ingredients. But it is a major challenge for food tasters, chefs and technologists to deliver the same food experiences that we comes to expect from our iconic food brands.

The University of Minnesota's Dentistry School chewing robot to the rescue!

This 30-year-old robot was designed for the purpose of testing dental restoration materials.  According to Ralph DeLong, Professor at the University, who helped build the robot, the super-chewer robot could put wear and tear on dental restorations a lot faster than humans could and cost a lot less to employ. But now the latest version of the robot can give feedback on what it's chewing.

In a report appearing on Marketplace, DeLong and his colleagues fed the robot a piece of puffed cereal. As the robot chewed, its three bottom teeth moved up and down and to the right and the left, while its top three teeth stayed anchored to a base. A computer hooked up to the robot registered the audio frequencies emitted by the crunching. DeLong says that for food companies that can be the basis of a comparison between the crispiness of an already successful product on the market and its “healthier” reformulation.

Today the Dentistry school team is working to capture the vapors emitted when the mechanical mouth chews, which can provide information about a product’s tastiness. So in the quest for new formulations, one note of caution is that it goes beyond crispy. “Sugar doesn't just make a product sweet and salt doesn't just make it salty,” said DeLong “They also have chemical interactions with the other things that affect the texture of the food.” Guess our food chefs have secure jobs at least for now.