You may have already considered turning to ChatGPT to find new functional food recipes.
If you’ve played around with it and you have any experience with making functional food products such as gummies, you may have noticed some chinks in the armor.
The first and last thing to remember about this program is that it is not sentient. It uses machine learning to sort through everything it can access on the internet–2021 and earlier– and pull an answer that its training says best fits your question.
First I asked ChatGPT 3.5 how to make the best vegan gummy.
It’s a simple, basic question that anyone searching for a gummy recipe might ask, whether it will stand alone, serve a functional role, or even be a medicinal cannabis edible.
I wanted a recipe that doesn’t use any animal-derived ingredient (i.e., no gelatin). I was expecting that ChatGPTwould probably suggest something fruit-flavored because that’s so common in the gummy world.
As far as plant-derived gelling agents go, I know from experience that the three most common are pectin, agar, and starch. For homemade gummies, starch is rarely the choice, as the specialized-for-confectionery modified starches are hard to acquire, and standard starches, like corn starch, doesn’t serve the role as well.
I also thought that if ChatGPT really understood “best” it would offer something with pectin, given the well-known excellent organoleptic characteristics that result from its use.
But this is what it came up with:
Here’s a recipe for making vegan gummies:
- 1/2 cup of fruit juice (preferably low pH like lemon juice or orange juice)
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1 tablespoon of agar agar powder (a vegan alternative to gelatin)
- 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- Optional: functional ingredient
- Silicone gummy molds
- Dropper or syringe
- In a saucepan, mix together the fruit juice, water, agar agar powder, citric acid, and salt.
- Whisk the mixture together over low heat until the agar agar powder dissolves completely.
- Add the optional functional ingredient.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
- Using a dropper or syringe, fill the silicone gummy molds with the mixture.
- Place the molds in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes to let the gummies set.
- Once the gummies have set, remove them from the molds and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
That’s it! This recipe should yield about 20-30 gummies, depending on the size of your molds. Make sure to label your gummies and keep them out of reach of children or petsChatGPT 3.5
Don’t use this ChatGPT gummy recipe!
TLDR: It will turn out sour and may not even gel.
Let me break down what went wrong, and then I’ll ask it a more specific question.
Generally speaking, it’s better to measure by mass/weight than by volume. Ingredients tend to vary in density from producer to producer. For example ¼ tsp. salt will have a different mass of salt depending on the grain/flake shape and size. Which can change the flavor drastically, especially when you scale up for market (which you can’t realistically do volumetrically with dry ingredients).
It’s not surprising that ChatGPT pulled a gummy recipe with volume-based measurement. It’s just drawing from what’s available on the internet—which leans toward American preferences, and American households still don’t often have scales in their kitchens. But if you’re making gummies commercially, definitely measure your recipe by weight.
It makes sense to see fruit as the basis of this recipe. Fruit juices and purees are common gummy ingredients.
But I am surprised to see it suggest a low pH (high acid) juice like lemon, especially since citric acid (which makes lemon sour) is also included.
People generally prefer their fruit-flavored gummies to be sweet—and there is essentially no sugar in this recipe, especially if you go with lemon juice. But even orange, pineapple, or some other juice would skew toward the sour side…and without adding additional sugar to balance it, I suspect these gummies would taste quite harsh.
Okay but let’s say you’re averse to sugar, or you just like things super sour—there’s still the fact that many functional ingredients are inherently bitter.
As any chef or food scientist knows, bitterness is enhanced by acid and mitigated by sweetness. So a recipe this sour would potentially be unpalatably bitter, without adding ingredients to manage bitterness.
And if we’re talking about flavor, we can’t just talk about sour, bitter, and sweet.
We also have to consider one of the biggest flavor factors in any recipe: aroma! It can’t just be an afterthought.
You have to consider all the ingredients that add aroma to the recipe, and in the case of the ChatGPT one above, there isn’t much. Various extracts from fruit or spices are commonly used to add flavor to cooked confectionery such as gummies. Without them, you can end up with a very boring product. Cooking down lemon or orange juice, for example, results in a kind of “canned” washed-out flavor, and it’s not a good look. But imagine the essence of the zest of a lemon or orange rind, or excellent bourbon vanilla extract. Such ingredients can be used to great effect.
Using agar for gummies
Why did ChatGPT choose agar as a baseline for the gummies? It’s impossible to know for sure, but my guess is that more people use agar because it’s easier to work with and doesn’t require a specific pH range and sugar concentration in order to gel.
Pectin is, for lack of a better word, more difficult.
And if you Google “vegan agar gummy” versus “vegan pectin gummy” you’ll notice there are almost 25% more instances of agar.
Of course more doesn’t mean better. But ChatGPT has no way of knowing that. It has no mouth, taste buds, or experience-based understanding of flavor or mouthfeel.
Also, agar is known for having lots of variability in its gelling capacity, which is apparently based upon regional differences in chemical composition. This means sometimes even batch to batch variation of agar from the same manufacturer might cause noticeable texture differences.
Another major consideration is that agar needs to be heated to dissolve in water—but when acid is also involved, the agar begins to break down; which dramatically reduces its gelling capacity.
In other words step one—which calls for mixing the lemon juice, citric acid, and agar before heating—is not advised.
To do it right you would first cook agar in a sugar solution to a particular temperature or brix, and then cool it down to below 200° F before blending with acidic ingredients.
Because of agar’s flexibility, ChatGPT’s gummy recipe might work—but it would then be using significantly more agar than necessary, and therefore your cost of goods increases for no reason other than following ChatGPT’s wasteful practices.
Home gummy makers may not care, but business owners generally want to avoid wasting one of their more expensive gummy ingredients—when a slight change in process could solve the problem instead.
Remember, every inefficiency or extra cost magnifies significantly when you scale for manufacturing. And by then it’s too late…
Fortunately food science is here to rescue you from that sunk-cost fate.
Remember that absence of sugar and the short cooking time? That adds up to a real short shelf-life, which is related to water activity.
Sugar and salt dampen that activity (so to speak). Without them, even low pH foods can grow mold. Disgusting, yes—but some molds also produce toxins. Which can bring legal trouble on top of the guaranteed ick factor that’ll sink your brand. Can you imagine the Google reviews…?
Unless you want to trust vendors to keep your product refrigerated at all times, you definitely wouldn’t want to use this recipe for commercial purposes.
Always always always run any newly developed products through shelf-life testing. (Ask me how)
How to get a decent gummy recipe from ChatGPT
ChatGPT’s strengths are also its weaknesses. All it does is pull from what already exists online. It’s not actually creating anything truly new. It can’t determine what will work versus what will fall flat and why. It has no sense—it’s just a masterful indexer and data analyzer.
Laying aside its lack of sensory input and actual experience to focus on what does make it a useful tool—one perpetual problem with the program still is that it’s hard to know what you don’t know. Both for the AI itself and for the humans trying to train it to give useful responses.
For example, how could ChatGPT reasonably know that pectin is preferable over agar for its superior flavor release, or that pectin has a more familiar mouthfeel for westerners? We would likely have to force it to consider these issues in our original question, and to do that, we’d have to realize that they are potential problems in the first place, and unless you are a confectionery expert or food scientist, that would be very unlikely information for you to have.
That said, if ChatGPT were trained to take into account issues like flavor release, mouthfeel, flavor profiles, and so forth, it may be able to self-correct. Each new version of ChatGPT leaps closer and closer to truly useful and not just entertaining.
But in the meantime, just remember that better questions can produce better results. (Hey—just like in science!)
So this time I asked ChatGPT:
How to make the best vegan gummy using pectin & granulated sugar, a recipe that will result in gummies that actually set, with a good mouthfeel and flavor. Listing ingredients in metric weights.
And here’s what it came up with:
- 250 ml fruit juice of your choice
- 10 g pectin
- 200 g granulated sugar
- 2 g citric acid
- 2 g vanilla extract
- Optional: functional ingredient
- In a small saucepan, combine the fruit juice and pectin. Whisk until the pectin is fully dissolved.
- Add the sugar to the juice mixture and stir until it’s fully dissolved.
- Heat the mixture over low heat and add the citric acid and vanilla extract. Stir well.
- Continue heating the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 107°C. Use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
- Add the optional functional ingredient and stir well.
- Pour the mixture into a silicone gummy mold, filling each mold about 3/4 full.
- Refrigerate the molds for at least an hour or until the gummies are firm.
- Remove the gummies from the mold and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Be sure to label your gummies clearly and keep them out of reach of children and pets.ChatGPT 3.5
This recipe looks somewhat better—but even at a glance I can tally up several issues that would prevent this from ever exceeding mediocre.
It did get rid of the extra water, which bodes well for shelf life. It also added a thermometer to the process, which is imperative when using pectin (though its heat/time ratio is a problem). And the flavor balance seems much more palatable, with vanilla added for more pronounced flavor.
But again, this recipe is still rife with problems. It would never work as a product for any reputable functional food business. And depending upon the pH of the fruit you choose, it might not even gel, though with the significant amount of pectin called for, it might also gel very firmly.
Read how I solve these problems (and more) in the next chapter of Food Scientist vs ChatGPT – in which I work with a client to develop this gummy recipe into a delicious, high-quality, long-lasting, and viable product for the nutraceutical gummy market.
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