What role can technology play in the ancient art of spice mixing?

Hello, Habr! I present to you the translation of the article “AI and spices: Would you put cumin on a pizza?” By Dhruti Shah.

What do Tuscan chicken, bourbon steak and New Orleans sausage have in common?

All of them are new spice flavors developed by the world's largest spice company using artificial intelligence.

Shot from the movie "Princess of Spices"

McCormick, a company not only selling spices, but also developing flavorings for the food industry, spent four years working with IBM Research to deal with over 40 years of spices-related data. Using machine learning, company specialists came up with new combinations of flavors that previously might not have been taken into account by scientists. The artificial intelligence system was trained on raw ingredients data, seasoning formulas, sales, trend forecasts and consumer product tests.

Hamed Faridi, McCormick’s principal fellow, said that using AI will reduce product development time and that the company plans to use this technology to develop all new products by the end of 2021.
Company developers, most of whom are dietitian scientists, chemists, chemical engineers or cooks by training, usually start creating a new product with a basic recipe, such as gravy or mustard, which is called the initial formula.

When using AI, the recipe developer still determines the initial formula and can set some parameters for the ingredients that should not be replaced in the recipe. The system will offer new formulas that McCormick product developers can refine and try, and then send them to consumer testing (and possibly eventually turn into real products).
“So far, AI has led to some combination of tastes that people would otherwise not have taken into account because of cultural prejudices about who would like the taste.” Said Richard Goodwin, chief research officer at IBM. “For example, one developer was working on a recipe for making pizza seasonings, and AI suggested adding caraway seeds, although this is not the norm for pizza spices. Following the advice of AI, the developer was surprised to note the excellent taste combination. ”
But some traditional spice producers were skeptical of this kind of innovation.


Neilam Verkhomal uses traditional methods for mixing spices in his spice shop in India.

Neilam Verkhomal runs Mohanlal Verkhomal Spice (MV) in Jodhpur, northern India, along with his mother and six sisters. She laughed when she heard about an algorithm that could create new spices.
“My late father Mohanlal was a scientist and inventor, and he actually tested every spice and its chemical composition to make a mixture of masala spices,” she says. “My mom tested the taste of spices at home - and that was of great importance.”
Her family’s mixes do not contain preservatives or flavor enhancers and are made using traditional grinding methods, and the head matriarch Bhagvanti oversees the process and makes a final verdict.

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