Knowledge Graph (KG): The success of innovative products depends on their conformity to various criteria ranging from matching flavor profiles, trigeminal sensations, popularity, trendiness, novelty, functionality, impacts on health, likeability by the consumer target group of the ingredients to state a few. In order to evaluate the above criteria, we need heterogeneous data sources and a framework to store and retrieve them for thousands of ingredients. At Foodpairing, we have deployed a Knowledge Graph (Figure 1) that integrates and semantically interrelates the different types and categories of data, but also captures various multi-level hierarchies of related entities, often referred to as taxonomies. Such hierarchical structures organize knowledge in a top-down fashion, with broader categories at the top and more specific classes beneath them, e.g., product categories and sub-categories, types of sensory descriptors, etc. Therefore, the Foodpairing KG is a multi-layered data-resource roping in information about multiple real-world contexts and markets – from the very obvious to the not-so obvious and many in between.
Figure 1. A representative layout of some of the contents of the FoodPairing Knowledge Graph.
Inflammation : a modern-day stressor
From being the hottest health topic of 2023 to being one of the most if not the most important biological processes in the human body, inflammation is in the headlines for various reasons. Inflammation is a basic mechanism of the human body to protect against external infections (like harmful microbes) and internal imbalances (like genetic mutations); hence its role in maintaining health and mediating disease is unsurprisingly obvious. For example, disruptions to the normal inflammatory responses / states were partly attributed to the high mortality, severity and hospitalization rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dietary adaptations against inflammation
Inflammation per se is not a negative or harmful phenomenon. Inflammation becomes harmful when it becomes chronic. The persistence and the level of persistence of inflammation is influenced by the exposome – aka the various lifestyle factors to which we are exposed such as stress, quantity and quality of sleep, alcohol consumption, therapeutic interventions, usage of painkillers, pollution, consumption of specific dietary components and dietary patterns to name a few. The type of diet we consume not only reinforces the protective effects of inflammation on health but also impacts the transition of inflammation from homeostatic to pathogenic/disease states. Mechanistic knowledge regarding such transitions can be used to modulate inflammation by including specific components and ingredients such as fatty-acids and following particular dietary patterns like intermittent fasting.
Harnessing “Adaptogens” to combat the harmful impacts of inflammation
Adaptogens are a specific group of dietary ingredients “which non-specifically increase resistance to harmful factors (“stressors”) of a physical, chemical, biological and psychological nature”. One of the mechanisms by which adaptogens elicit their protective action is by reducing chronic inflammatory states. Moreover, in the context of general functionality, adaptogens contribute to the overall resilience of the human system by neutralizing the symptoms of stress at both mental and physiological levels (Figure 2). For example, Panax Ginseng is known to improve several psychological outcomes such as memory, calmness and mood as well as physiological symptoms such as reduction of fatigue, blood sugar and total cholesterol, along with increased endurance time, sleep duration, levels of cortisol and of antioxidant enzymes. Concurrently, there is a heightened need from consumers to enhance mental and physical resilience via conscious eating. All of the above-mentioned factors create the ideal macroenvironment for the introduction of innovative products which not only stimulate popular sensations but also impart functional benefits.
Figure 2. Graphical representation of ingredients (purple nodes) which have a positive impact on stress-related physiological contexts (orange nodes) by beneficially modulating various health outcomes (green nodes) including but not limited to inflammation. Except for the nodes representing outcomes, the size of the nodes is proportional to the outgoing degree.
Identifying trending and popular “adaptogenic” ingredients
Using additional data from our in-house Knowledge Graph, we identified adaptogenic ingredients which are trending (Figures 3-4) at the level of individual countries.
Based on overall trends of all adaptogens across multiple product categories over time, it can be seen that there is an obvious growth in the ‘Healthcare’ category and ‘Hot Beverages’ (Figure 5). Other product categories with emerging growth since 2018 include ‘Soft drinks’, ‘Sauces and seasonings’, ‘Snacks’ and ‘Chocolate’. (Figure 6).
Figure 5. Occurrences of products with adaptogens over time and within various product categories.
Figure 6. Increase over time in the number of products with adaptogens within the Chocolate category.
By zooming in further into the occurrence of ingredients with the products in the ‘Chocolate confectionary’ category, we identified several adaptogenic ingredients such as Coconut Oil, Coffee, Ginger which are prominent (Figure 7), several upcoming adaptogens such as Maca Root and Peppermint in addition to other new entrants which can potentially break into the market (Ginseng, Green Tea, Liquorice, Ashwagandha, Spirulina etc) as exemplified by existing products (Figure 8).
Figure 7. Prominent adaptogenic ingredients occurring within the category of chocolates.
Figure 8. Examples of chocolate products with adaptogenic ingredients such as Ginger, Ashwagandha, Lion’s Mane.
There is a growing need from consumers for integrating functionality into food and drinks. Adaptogens are one such class of ingredients which promote resilience against modern-day stressors such as inflammation. Several ‘adaptogenic’ ingredients exist which not only provide functional benefits but are also well known in different product categories or are slowly emerging as promising candidates in product categories associated with food and drinks. At Foodpairing, through our Knowledge Graph, we follow an integrated approach to New Product Development by combining functionality, trendiness, novelty etc in a country-specific manner to come up with customized, healthy and profitable solutions for different target markets.