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A World of Flavors

Digital disruption has taken the world over by storm and of course, the food industry hasn’t been left out of the tempest. In this article, we are going to talk about one specific, yet unique trend that has been set by artificial intelligence – Flavor Development.

Flavor is defined as the distinctive taste of a food or a drink through the senses of smell or taste. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter – these are some of the common flavors we know. However, what if there is a whole new world of flavors in hiding, that hasn’t been made acquainted with the human taste buds? That’s exactly what flavor development AI helps reveal.

AI and data share a symbiotic relationship, working together to combine new flavors and food combinations. Data from sensory sciences play a key role in flavor development, along with data from customer preferences, reviews, and sales. Apart from this, there also comes the data from raw materials - ingredients and food products. The different formulas of mixing ingredients for creating a particular flavor are other crucial data pertinent to the research. All this information together constitutes historical data, from which, an algorithm is run to capture different design patterns and formulas. This algorithm aims to forecast elements such as:

  1. Alternate raw material options that can provide a food product with a similar taste

  2. How existing flavors can be tweaked to enhance the flavor of products

  3. The proportion of raw materials required to formulate new flavors

  4. Definition of what constitutes a product (the difference between what makes up tomato sauce and what makes up mayonnaise) and how new products can be formulated from existing materials

  5. How the new flavor/product might be received by the market

Another important point to factor in is the genetic factor- why people from some regions enjoy certain flavors more than people from other regions. This depends a lot on the nature of the food that is indigenous to that particular region. Thus, geographical factors contributing to the development of certain crops in certain places also play a pivotal role in flavor development and in the marketing of a particular flavor in a specific region.

We can see that the amount of data that goes into this process is not something that can be fit into vest pockets. IBM’s Research AI for Product Composition is a system that has been developed for pattern identification and novel combination formulation. It works by deep diving into trenches of vast volumes of the above-mentioned data to untangle patterns and unravel optimal proportions of ingredients to develop new flavors. This AI helps reduce the time taken to develop a new flavor by 70 percent. This system also tries to recreate an existing food item by replacing its original constituents with different, yet structurally similar ingredients to check for easier ways to produce the same item. Not only for food, but this AI is also being used in fragrance development.

The world’s first intelligent flavor was created in 2020 by the Swiss startup Firmenich. This is the flavor of a delectable light grilled beef taste that can be used in vegan meat products. This development has the potential to transform eating habits across the globe as people can now get the essence of their favorite meat product from greener alternatives.

But all this progress made in the field of flavor development is just the tip of the iceberg. Though it indeed is an inviting and lucrative endeavor, we have just taken baby steps in the direction of this field. With a gazillion benefits and perks, flavor development indeed can revolutionize the food options we have and can alter the shape of the present food industry.


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