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A new class of foods designed with AI algorithms arrives in Latin America

The first food product invented by an artificial intelligence (AI) system can already be obtained in Argentina. And with this specific meal, AI shows that it can already revolutionize a productive item that, until now, was conservative: the food industry.

That AI is modifying society is no longer a novelty

Dictating an email to the smartphone, driverless cars or combat drones that choose a target and fire without a commander’s order are already common. The novelty is that, in laboratories and companies, computational techniques of Machine Learning and Big Data are already used to create new -and recreate old- foods using absolutely novel ingredients.

For example, a Chilean startup has just presented in the local market a mayonnaise that has the same taste, smell, color and texture as the traditional one. “But it’s made with ingredients like canola oil, chickpeas, lupines, mustard seeds, grape vinegar, lemon, salt, blond sugar, white pepper and garlic. And it doesn’t have lactose, gluten, cholesterol, eggs or soy, ”said Matías Muchnick, co-founder of NotCo, the company that specializes in developing traditional foods using only vegetable raw material through AI software developed by its technicians.

“Traditionally the food industry creates new products by combining the work of food engineers, nutritionists and chefs who add their skills to, for example, create a yogurt, soup or alfajor. And basically they do it by resorting to their intuition and experience and testing the result through tastings made by consumer panels that give their verdict”, summarized Martín Piña, director of the Food Engineering degree at UADE.

The use of artificial intelligence opens up other possibilities

“Resorting to AI in food allows us to think in original form. If a company wants to develop a new flavor for an Italian sauce, its chefs will surely tend to try combining ingredients such as oregano and basil. On the other hand, an algorithm could propose resorting to cumin”, exemplified -from the US- Dr. Robin Lougee, an IBM researcher specializing in the field of Agriculture and Consumer Products.

And the expert added: “With this tool that complements people’s creativity, it is possible to design even new flavors. In the USA there are already companies that launched totally original condiments with combinations suggested by a digital research platform”.

Not only possible to think of original foods

The use of AI also opens the door to improving these businesses. “These are tools that allow experts in the field to analyze millions of industry data,” said Angel Castán, head of the Retail and Consumer sector at IBM Spain. He added: “We developed a solution for a company that allows” to capture signals “about what consumers and influencers say Twitter, blogs, general newspapers and scientific journals. The company manages to collect information that helps its engineers know when to offer their products in new markets. And it allows to detect early and hyperlocalized tendencies; for example, knowing what ingredients are gaining in popularity, or what feelings and emotions are associated with them”.

While in Argentina the first product made by an AI is a mayonnaise the company already showed in Chile a milk and various tastes of “vegetarian” ice cream. “Our milk has a composition similar to that of cow but we make it with a recipe for peas, cabbage and pineapple. And we supplement it so that it provides the same amount of vitamins, calcium and protein from cow’s”, said Muchnick. Those same products are already distributing them in the USA. And they will add other dairy products such as yogurts and vegetable cheeses.

The biggest challenges

But the biggest challenge for the coming months awaits them in the Argentine market. “We already have advanced tests to replace traditional hamburgers. In 2020 we will offer a hamburger equal to those made with minced meat in its shape, appearance, taste and consistency. But we will use only vegetable ingredients. It will be very competitive and also tasty because we do not bet on the light, but they will also carry percentages of fats and proteins that make the traditional hamburger so rich”.

Possible problems

Although the advantages of this creative option are many, experts think that this technology should still overcome some barriers. “There are consumers who claim that these products do not give the same organoleptic sensation as the original,” Piña said. Another point to resolve is the cultural one. “In Argentina, proposing a vegetable meat is something that, for now, we do not know if it will be fully accepted or limited to a niche of consumers. In addition, at this time, these products tend to be more expensive than their traditional equivalents. But it is very possible that over time and the economy of scale the costs are equalized. It is also difficult to create three-dimensional structures for a food. Today we could “replace” with vegetable ingredients a minced meat, but getting the consistency and texture of a chorizo steak is not something, for now, possible ”. And Piña ended up citing another notable phenomenon: “This will end the secrets in the formulations, like the famous formula of the typical cola drink. Using AI a company could achieve an equivalent liquid, but formulated in another way and with other ingredients”.

Why use software?

Why does the use of AI now arise in the food industry? For Martin Piña of the UADE there are three solid reasons that explain it. “Today, current production contributes greatly to the deterioration of the environment in which we live. In fact, just a few months ago the UN issued a recommendation proposing to reduce the consumption of global meat, based on ecological and environmental sustainability reasons. On the other hand, consumers are increasingly demanding from the industry healthier foods that have fewer chemical additives. And they demand a true paradigm shift for this sector. The third reason has to do with the growth experienced by social movements that support veganism and the good treatment of animals. All this explains the reason for the search for artificial meat manufacturing in laboratories and the use of vegetable substitutes as ingredients for processed foods.


Also published on Medium.

Published inArtificial Intelligence (AI)

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