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About the Flavor Genome Project

This project is spearheaded by Dr. Altringer of the Desirability Lab at Harvard University and is part of a longitudinal project that explores how components of flavor combine to create delightful multi-sensory, chemical, emotional, and cultural experiences.

The initial idea for the project has roots in Altringer’s experience in international tasting competitions with the Cambridge University Blind Wine Tasting Society.

Later, in the summer of 2014, through a design residency in Italy, she explored ways to deconstruct taste experiences with the Sensory Composition project.

From 2015, Altringer began building an interactive catalogue of 200,000 multi-sensory pairings in daily life (foods, beverages, emotions and more).

In the summer of 2015, Dr. Altringer collaborated with chefs Tse Wei Lim and Diana Kudajarova to test the earliest version of software developed from the catalogue. The collaboration helped show that the approach could inspire novel professional culinary designs. It led to ‘Delightfully Paired: Feelings for Dinner’, an event in which guests explored – through taste – whether food and wine pairing can tell an emotional story.

In 2017, she tested a later version of the software, co-hosting a blind pairing dinner with Chef Tracy Chang of Pagu. Several sommeliers provided pairing suggestions to Tracy’s seven-course menu and guests blind tasted the pairings, which included Altringer’s software-suggested pairings.

On two of the seven dishes, the software and sommelier suggestions were very similar and guests could not tell the difference. For two additional pairings, the crowd was split, with half preferring the slightly sweeter or slightly more acidic suggestions. On a fifth dish, the software interpreted charcuterie and cheese as mainly meat, and suggested a wine accordingly. The sommeliers interpreted as mainly cheese. The crowd split, depending on what they preferred eating. On the remaining two pairings, the guests preferred the software-suggested wine.

Later in 2017, she collaborated on AI and Flavor with the MIT Museum for the sold out Food for Thought exhibition. Chef Tracy Chang developed four menu items and Altringer’s software generated 2-3 beverage pairings to each item. Pairings deviated substantially from human-generated pairing stereotypes, which tend to assume things like ‘if it grows together, it goes together’. The blind parallel tastings showcased different ways that wine, beer, and cocktails can pair to the same food dish, with interactive effects that highlight different flavors in the food.

Altringer continues developing the software and expanding the catalogue. FGP is currently seeking collaborations, partnerships, and funding for the next stages of this project.