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Massive food ‘dictionary’ to speed new product development

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 05-Oct-2012
Last updated the 18-Oct-2012 at 17:49 GMT

Computer software could speed NPD
Computer software could speed NPD

New product developers may soon have a new tool for coming up with innovative food concepts, as a group of Dutch companies and universities is developing a huge dictionary of food knowledge compiled from more than 20 million seemingly unrelated documents.

The project, “Development of Food Ontologies”, is a collaboration between Radboud University Nijmegen, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Wageningen UR – Food & Biobased Research and NIZO food research. It aims to develop a large food dictionary (ontology) that searches books, patents and scientific literature and analyses the data in ways that may not have occurred to researchers.

“Instead of having to go through enormous amounts of information by hand, computer software now enables us to screen over 20 million documents in a very short period of time,” said NIZO project leader Wynand Alkema.

“Furthermore, computer models will come up with combinations that are not easily thought of by scientists, resulting in refreshing and unexpected outcomes. For example, this technology can bring together the knowledge for a particular food product or ingredient from the seemingly unrelated fields of agricultural, medical and social sciences to provide leads for new applications or new markets that had not been considered before."

He told FoodNavigator that the ontology will be released into the public domain, and the project is expected to take two years to complete. However, parts of it are due to become available sooner, along with demonstration software by mid-2013.

The project has been supported by a €445,000 grant from the Netherlands eScience Center, which may later adapt the technology to other fields of research.

Development of the text analysis tool combines the data mining software and ontology development expertise of VU Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen with the specialist food knowledge of Food & Biobased Research and NIZO food research.

“The collaboration between research companies and universities ensures a rapid implementation for use by industry,” said project leader at Wageningen and VU professor Jan Top.

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