Add artificial intelligence to recipe for success

WASHINGTON • Looking for that perfect recipe or a new flavour combination that delights the senses?

Increasingly, players in the food industry are embracing artificial intelligence (AI) to better understand the dynamics of flavour, aroma and other factors that go into making a food product a success.

Earlier this year, IBM became a surprise entrant to the food sector, announcing a partnership with seasonings maker McCormick to "explore flavour territories more quickly and efficiently using AI to learn and predict new flavor combinations" by collecting data from millions of data points.

The partnership highlights how technology is being used to disrupt the food industry by helping develop new products and respond to consumer preferences and offer improved nutrition and flavour.

"More and more, food companies are embracing digitisation and becoming data-driven," said Mr Bernard Lahousse, co-founder of Foodpairing, a start-up with offices in Belgium and New York that develops digital food "maps" and algorithms to recommend food and drink combinations.

Mr Lahousse said his company has "the largest flavour database in the world" that enables better food predictions based on human preference and data analysis.

"Instead of using an expert panel or consumer panel, we develop algorithms that can translate into how consumers view this product," he said.

New York-based Analytical Flavour Systems uses AI to create a model or "gastrograph" of flavour, aroma and texture to predict consumer preference of food and beverage products.

The platform, which recently raised US$4 million (S$5 million) in funding, aims to help companies "create better, more targeted and healthy products for consumers," according to founder Jason Cohen.

It is not clear how much funding is going into AI food ventures, although overall food-technology investment amounted to US$16.9 billion last year, according to data from investment platform AgTech Funder.

Ms Brita Rosenheim, a food-technology analyst and investor in Analytical Flavour Systems through the firm Better Food Ventures, said technology can help "digitise existing data" from human taste panels and speed up the process for developing new food products.

"The typical food product development process is long and there are a lot of holes where there is no clear feedback on how the market is reacting, so this kind of technology can help," Ms Rosenheim said.

Foodpairing, for example, offers its "flavour intelligence" map based on molecular analysis: Spanish dry-cured ham, for example, has elements described as "cheesy" or acidic, while beetroot has a "woody" and "caramellic" flavour profile.

Mr Lahousse said one of its notable pairing recommendations was oysters and kiwi, which became a signature dish at a well-known Belgian restaurant.

"Foodpairing maps out all possible pairings, but food is cultural and personal," he said.

"That is why we also use consumer behaviour to increase the relevance of the pairings when we work with food companies."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2019, with the headline 'Add artificial intelligence to recipe for success'. Print Edition | Subscribe