Can We Digitize Food By Digitizing Scent?


The world is full of smells, and they are all around us. We can detect them through our noses, and they make up a large part of our daily lives. A book can be described as being “breathtakingly beautiful” or “stunningly breathtaking,” but there’s no such thing as “beautiful breathlessly.” However, with technology comes the ability to translate these senses into digital images that can be viewed on screens both large and small.

In this article we’ll explore how we may soon be able to replicate scents digitally so that we can take advantage of their unique qualities when it comes time for us to cook or eat something new!

In olfaction we have a challenge to identify a set of “primary” odors and their mixtures that would enable creating an aroma wheel or map, but we’re working on it. The first leap was discovering that the digital solution to the problem may not be as complex as the biological solution. We may not need to replicate the precise activity patterns of 100s of receptors to deduce the code that translates from chemical information to sensory experience. The foundational data that we need is being built from very large datasets comprised of odor chemical and human sensory information. We have learned that the type of sensory data needed can best be obtained from trained human subjects describing their perceptual experience of 100s of distinct odor chemicals in a very standardized way. This information is combined with information about the chemical and physical properties of the odor molecules. Then, artificial intelligence systems are applied to deduce the “rules” used to translate chemical information to sensory experience. These rules (the “code”) can be used to predict the aroma quality of a novel chemical — or even whether that chemical has an odor!

Smell is one of the most important senses when it comes to our eating experiences, yet it is often left out of the recipe.

Smell is one of the most important senses when it comes to our eating experiences, yet it is often left out of the recipe. How can smell be used to make food more appealing?

The answer lies in combining the power of scent with the power of technology. By digitizing scents and applying them as part of your recipes, you can create new flavors and textures that would otherwise be impossible.

While we can easily hook up a camera and display images on a screen, smell has never been simulated in such a way.

While we can easily hook up a camera and display images on a screen, smell has never been simulated in such a way. Smell is the only sense that can be triggered by memory—the brain processes smell differently than other senses like taste or vision.

So when you smell something delicious, your brain immediately registers it as something good to eat. You may have experienced this yourself while eating bagels: if someone takes one out of their pocket, you’ll know instantly whether or not it’s fresh!

From a practical perspective for the future food world, digitizing smell will enable the creation of new palates of olfactory experience that we cannot even imagine today

by putting tools in the hands of flavorists, food creators, and chefs that allow them to explore a myriad of new combinations and formulations in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional methods — to focus on more sustainable, health-promoting options with specific, desired nutritional and sensory characteristics. In hospitality, imagine going into a hotel room and immediately feeling truly relaxed and at home — because you sampled the ambient aroma in your own bedroom and entered into their personalized environmental choice system when you made your reservation! For me, that might have notes of cat, rose-geranium, and toast — and as morning approaches, the toast gets stronger, rose-geranium fades toward citrus, and coffee begins to build! I’m ready for the day!

There is an opportunity in the future of food to enter the MetaVerse. With digitization science, flavor, and food experiences might enter multi-dimensional fully immersive online life, bringing restaurants into MetaVerse land, not only as visual and cognitive experiences but as metabolically and sensorially relevant ones, accessible to anyone, anywhere.

This is an exciting time for virtual reality in food. It has the potential to revolutionize how we think about cooking and eating, but it’s going to take some work on our part. We need more people willing to experiment with new technologies, including smell simulation (which is admittedly a bit of a stretch right now). But if we want these kinds of experiences to become a reality, then they must be made available through simple means like Google Cardboard or even just smartphones without VR headsets installed. This is how we will all get comfortable with technology before it becomes commonplace