Beer is one of the most widely consumed alcoholic beverages in the world. The flavor of each brand is one of its most relevant quality standards.
Ever try brewing your own? Then you understand how, depending on the beer's type and storage conditions, that flavor can be altered — for the worst — as a result of changes in the chemical composition produced during the brewing process.
Led by Elena Benito-Peña and María Cruz Moreno-Bondi from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), the team developed a simple, low-cost method capable of measuring whether or not beer has gone stale, simply by using a sensor and a smartphone app. The results of the study have been published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.
Benito-Peña explains that this development forms part of an INNPACTO project of the Spanish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Competitiveness, in which the UCM has collaborated with the Mahou-San Miguel brewing company.
The researcher points out that up until now brewers have measured furfural — a chemical compound that appears during the aging process of beer and gives it a stale taste — and other freshness indicators using methods based on chromatography techniques. "But these methods involve the use of expensive equipment and sample preparation is very time-consuming," she says.
The system developed by the researchers at the UCM consists of sensor discs that detect the presence of furfural in beer. These sensors, made from a polymer similar to the one used to manufacture contact lenses, have been designed to change color (from yellow to pink) when they come into contact with a beer containing furfural.
"We have incorporated an aniline derivative into the sensor material that reacts with the furfural and produces a pink cyanine derivative that allows us to identify the presence of the marker in the sample. The intensity of the color increases as the concentration of furfural in the beer rises and, thus, as more time passes since the beer was produced," explains the chemist.
The team has also created a mobile app for Android smartphones that, by taking a picture of the sensor disc, allows for the identification of the amount of furfural present in the beer. With this data, the degree of freshness can be determined.
The application is available as open source, meaning that any programmer can utilize and modify it to be used on other platforms. In the future it will also be available for Apple users.
Benito-Peña recounts that the idea of developing the new method came about following a meeting with Mahou-San Miguel during which the brewing company spoke about the technical difficulties they were having in detecting furfural at the production facilities.
Although the method was initially developed for brewing companies, it can also be used with other food products such as honey, milk and coffee.