April 7, 2022
The next new ingredient isn't being discovered on a farm or in a kitchen. It's coming from deep inside a computer that's always learning and evolving.
This isn't science fiction. It's the future of R&D.
A new generation of computer experts is pairing food science and molecular biology with powerful artificial intelligence to uncover natural ingredients, formulations and trends that we slow-brained humans never could have imagined.
Like, who would have thought that pineapple shared molecular similarities to cow milk and could be a key ingredient in a non-dairy milk beverage? Or black pepper might hold the key to liver disease prevention and treatment? Or soy sauce and Nutella make a fantastic flavor combination on noodles?
Big-data technologies like natural language processing, computer vision and deep learning are being used to reverse-engineer ingredients from the molecule up and at the computational speed of light.
"It's a massive step for humankind because this is the first time we have AI-discovered ingredients from nature. They are not designed by artificial intelligence; they are discovered by it," says Nora Khaldi, founder and CEO of Nuritas, which uses AI to look for new, bioactive peptides in plants and familiar food sources.
The AI trend has been growing within the food, beverage and nutraceuticals industries for about five years, as competitors race to find the next plant-based proteins, supercultures for fermentation and bioactives hidden in the plant kingdom. Biotech and computational biology startups are proliferating, and a few, like NotCo, have reached unicorn status because of this hunger for speedy innovation.
"You have the ability to move new products to market really, really quickly if you're using AI," says Dhaval Patel, Ph.D., director of research and innovation for NemaLife, a TechBio company that uses AI microfluidics and tiny worms to study the health benefits of new compounds.
Click through this gallery to meet some players in this emerging space.
This story was featured in the Nutrition Business Journal Market Overview Issue.
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