Editorial Feature

New Chilli Sensor to Help Standardize ‘Heat’

Researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a chili sensor to help standardize the degree of heat in chili food.

Currently, the food industry relies on a panel of judges to help grade spicy foods, though this is costly with subjective feedback and doesn’t necessarily become an accurate system on a global scale for the food industry. If produced on a mass scale, this sensor could be used by the food industry as a gold standard logo on the packaging.

This sensor technology is designed as a handheld device using nanotechnology and uses a sensitive electroanalytical method to help identify and calculate the concentration levels of capsaicin – the chemical in chilies that gives us the feeling of ‘heat’ on the tip of the tongue and roof of the mouth.

The technology includes an adsorptive stripping voltammetry component that has a multi-walled structure made up of carbon nanotube-based electrodes to help to initiate an electrochemical response that is a reflection of the level of capsaicin in a test sample. The use of multiple electrodes provides a much larger surface area to help increase the absorption of capsaicin, which provides a more accurate reading of the level of capsaicin in a chili.  

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The determination of chemical capsaicin levels in a food sample using electrochemical technology matches quite well with the Scoville scale. This well-known method involves the dilution of a sample of capsaicin-containing food up until the sample testers on the panel can no longer sense the heat from the sample of food.

Accurate and sensitive based on the multi-electrode array to determine capsaicin concentrations makes this technique ideal for its integration into a handheld device - a portable and promising analysis tool for food manufacturers wanting to standardize for the level of ‘heat’ in food products.

This sensor is subject to a new UK patent application. The Isis Innovation, the Technology Transfer Company of Oxford University, has licensed this technology – a sensor that is set to be manufactured by Singapore spin-out, Bio-X (S) Pte. Ltd.


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