Food

A Supercomputer Knows What Flavors You Like Better Than You Do

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You probably feel like you have a good idea of what food you like and what you don't. Turns out, you might actually enjoy flavor combinations (strawberries and jalapeno!?!) that you would never have thought to try. Enter, supercomputers.

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Why It's Innovative

For those of us who can't stand anchovies, watching a friend devour one is confusing at best, disgusting at worst. But we all have different taste buds, and they're incredibly complex. Whether or not we like the food we eat is the result of a combination of factors: taste, flavor, smell, texture, and even temperature. Taste and flavor, for example, are surprisingly different. Taste refers to the five taste sensations we can experience: sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami. Flavor, on the other hand, is about the entire experience of how we feel when we taste. While our tongue provides the dominant means by which we taste, our sense of smell accounts for up to 80% of how we experience flavor. So flavor is determined by a combination of taste and smell, which in turn is determined by the ingredients in our food and how it's prepared. In other words, flavor is actually something of a mathematical equation, and it's possible to imagine personal equations for our individual likes and dislikes.

This is exactly how the supercomputer IBM Chef Watson approaches taste. IBM Chef Watson, "read up on the chemical composition of hundreds of different ingredients and analyzed some 10,000 recipes from Bon Appétit," according to a January 2016 IBM blog post on the supercomputer. "By combining that data and detecting certain patterns, Chef Watson has learned to suggest up to four different ingredients that blend together seamlessly. Four doesn't sound like much, until you realize that adds up to about one quintillion possible combinations."

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How You Can Try It Out

Want to see how IBM Chef Watson can help you make the most of your favorite treat? Bear Naked Granola has teamed up with IBM Chef Watson, enabling hungry snackers to create adventurous and delicious custom granola combinations. First, you choose from over 50 ingredients and spices to customize your own granola recipe. Next, IBM Watson will tell you if your ingredient choices work well together, measuring the combination's "synergy score." Finally, you feast! (On chocolate granola with bourbon flavor, pretzel and cashew, no less.)

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Editors' Picks: Our Favorite Videos About Taste

The IBM Watson Supercomputer Can Create Food Combinations You'd Never Think To Consider

Learn how supercomputers could become our own personal chefs, catering to our individual tastes and dietary preferences.

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Why Do People Taste Things Differently?

Are you a "supertaster?"

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. There are two types of "tasters": supertasters and subtasters. 00:28

  2. Everything you taste has a combination of salty, sweet, savory, bitter and sour in each bite. 01:24

  3. A supertaster is more likely to eat healthier and less dangerous foods. 02:18

How Taste And Smell Work Together

Both are essential in ultimately allowing us to experience flavor.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. All of our senses involve sensory cells that translate stimuli into action potentials, a process called transduction. 00:56

  2. Scientists estimate that humans can identify about 10,000 different smells. 04:39

  3. All tastes register on all parts of the tongue—there are no specialized areas for specific flavors. 07:06

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