Feb 12, 2019

The world's largest spice company is using AI to create new flavors

Photo: DeAgostini/Getty

At some point in the future, when you order a pizza, you may be surprised at the taste — with odd ingredients added not by the ingenuity of the chef standing behind the counter twirling dough, but an artificial intelligence program with its own idea of a savory pie.

What's happening: McCormick, the world’s largest spice company, has begun working with IBM Research to create new spices that humans might not consider. Among its latest concoctions — the cumin pizza, says Richard Goodwin, principal research scientist at IBM.

  • Why it matters: AI is starting to change our palate, and not just when it comes to food. As we've previously reported, AI is introducing novelty and creativity into food, in addition to fashion, art, cocktails, and dance.
  • "The computer doesn’t have some of the same biases we have," Goodwin tells Axios.

How it works: The system, which is still in the testing phase, pulls from decades’ worth of data on spices to identify a base formula for a flavor category (such as a BBQ sauce). Then it incorporates new, sometimes surprising ingredients, as well as sales and trend forecasts, to make sure the new flavors perform well.

The algorithm can cut spice development time down by two-thirds, CNN reports.

  • By the numbers: The IBM system can examine hundreds of thousands of formulations that have been tried in the past, involving some 5,000 ingredients. "A person just can’t deal with that," Goodwin says.
  • At the end, humans make the decision: A consumer taste-test follows the AI process. "There's always going to be a need for humans to taste," Bob Doyle, VP of the Robotics Industries Association, tells Axios.

Driving the market: "Consumers are expecting ... our products in the food and beverage world these days to be better," said Maria Velissariou, chief science and technology officer at the Institute of Food Technologists. "They need to have nutritional content, they have to be high quality, they have to be accessible, and they have to be affordable."

  • Carlsberg has used machine learning to predict what beer will taste like, and Foodpairing helps restaurants devise ideal cocktail and meal pairings, per CNN.

Go deeper

Trump touts press briefing "ratings" as U.S. coronavirus case surge

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.

World coronavirus updates: Total cases surge to over 700,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now than more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 32,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Saturday he would issue a "strong" travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 47 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 704,095 — Total deaths: 33,509 — Total recoveries: 148,824.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 132,637 — Total deaths: 2,351 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "really panicked" people
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reported 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reported almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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