Hope or hype? AI-powered food product development

Recently artificial intelligence (AI) replaces machine learning (ML) as the leading buzzword in the startup world and begins to enter food and feed production space. Those startups proclaim that their AI powered tools can develop ingredients and product formula better than or as good as trained scientists. Is AI simply a marketing buzzword to attract investors or is it indeed superior to good scientists? Let’s do a simple test.

We asked an AI system to “define what cultured dextrose is and summarize its usage as a mold inhibitor in food.” Its full answer is attached below:

“Cultured dextrose is a food ingredient derived from dextrose (a form of glucose) that has been fermented using specific bacterial cultures. The fermentation process typically involves lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus. As a result, cultured dextrose contains organic acids and other fermentation by-products.

In the context of its usage as a mold inhibitor in food, cultured dextrose acts as a natural preservative. The organic acids produced during fermentation, such as lactic acid, create an acidic environment that inhibits the growth of mold and other spoilage microorganisms in food products. This helps extend the shelf life of various food items, including baked goods, dairy products, and some processed foods.

By incorporating cultured dextrose into food formulations, manufacturers can achieve mold inhibition without resorting to synthetic preservatives. This aligns with the growing consumer preference for natural and clean-label ingredients in food products. Additionally, cultured dextrose may contribute to the development of foods with a tangy or fermented flavor profile, depending on the concentration used and the specific bacterial strains involved in the fermentation process.”

We again asked another generative AI system exactly the same question, below is the answer:

"Cultured dextrose is a food additive that inhibits the growth of mold and bacteria in food. It's made by fermenting dextrose with the bacteria Propionibacterium freudenreichii, which is naturally found in dairy foods. The fermentation process produces lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the solution and creates an environment that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms.

Cultured dextrose is often used in place of benzoates and sorbates and is considered by some consumers to be a more "natural" ingredient. It's used in a range of foods including dairy products, salad dressings, and baked goods.

Cultured dextrose is typically gluten-free, but it's not always the case. Dextrose is commonly derived from corn, which is gluten-free, but it can also be derived from non-gluten-free sources like wheat.

Cultured dextrose is vegan if it's consistent with commonly recognized vegan standards. The ingredient or its sub ingredients, including inputs used to produce them, should not be derived from an animal source. "

Both responses contain significant inaccuracies from a scientific perspective. It appears that they address different topics, and neither explicitly specifies the active components in cultured dextrose. Evidently, AI has a superior ability to summarize information fetched from open-source resources full of misinformation but doesn’t know what is right or wrong due to lack of critical thinking, an ability that separates good scientists from not-so-good ones.

The verdict: AI may serve well in assisting R&D scientists to speed up product development processes, but there is a long way ahead before AI can replace skilled scientists in the realms of scientific creativity and innovation. Are these food startups positioned to be successful or will become a new wave of hype? The judgement is yours.

AI for food product development, hope or hype
AI for food product development, hope or hype