Intellectually, many of us know the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, but switching over can be daunting, especially if one hasn't had too much experience with cooking vegetarian or vegan dishes, and also if the tastebuds haven't really gotten used to new flavours. That's why many people may add in some mock meats, just to ease the transition, though whether it actually tastes good and "real" enough is up for debate.
Now a team of Chilean scientists is adding technology to the mix, using artificial intelligence to create smarter and better-tasting meat replacements. Founders Matias Muchnick, Karim Pichara and biochemist Isidora Silva of food-tech startup The Not Company are leveraging recent developments in deep learning algorithms to create entirely plant-based foods that are healthy for people, and won't have the huge ecological impact of meat. The company is featured in this segment by Al Jazeera:
Muchnick, who is an engineer by training, explains the team's motivation behind their AI model, named Giuseppe:
When you get behind the scenes of the food industry, you don’t like what you see. There is a lot of things that we should be knowing… but we are blindsided by a whole industry that is making it really hard for us to see what we are really eating,” says Matias Muchnick. We want people to eat better, but without even knowing. That’s the main objective of the Not Company.
Here's how the artificially intelligent program Giuseppe works. It utilizes so-called "deep" machine learning techniques to train itself, learning about the molecular composition of different foods, different tastes and textures, and how humans perceive these, in order to use the data to develop new plant-based recipes that taste like animal-based foods. The company says that Giuseppe can "replicate the taste, texture and even smell of animal-based products by copying their molecular structure." The idea is to make foods like vegan milk and cheese more nutritious and taste even better -- without using soy, gluten, GMOs, nor hormones.
And how does it taste? Well, according to Al Jazeera correspondent Lucia Newman in the video above, the company's Not Milk -- made out of mushrooms and seeds -- tastes sweeter and creamier than real milk, but has the same nutritional profile with fewer calories and costs way less than other vegan milks. The clip also features a plant-based mayonnaise, cheese, cream cheese, chicken liver pâté and a chocolate-hazelnut-like spread.
Beyond imitating flavours, the technology behind Giuseppe will also work with data on resource use, to best determine the optimal balance between resource availability, energy use, land use, taste and nutrition. So far, the team is developing a line of animal-free meats, cheeses, milks, condiments, but the overall aim is to use artificial intelligence to move away from raising animal livestock over to delicious plant-based foods that could be produced locally. The company will be launching some of its products in select Chilean supermarkets next month. For more information, visit The Not Company website.