Yahoo Cooking with Gas: Food Search on the Web

How well would a food search engine work on the Web?

One that let you search for meals available at local restaurants, or through recipes, or at local markets where you could find the ingredients to make your meal?

What if it provided information about each dish based upon flavors such as saltiness or bitterness, leanness or fattiness, hotness or coldness?

Would it help if it also provided a composition of dishes providing amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals? If you’re concerned about your health and diet, or have special dietary needs, that could be nice.

Would recommendations for alternative meals, and complementary sides and beverages based upon other searchers’ selections help?

A Yahoo patent application published last week describes such a Meal finder search (US Patent Application 20080147611).

As a one time chef at a number of restaurants, I would appreciate such a food based search engine. I also like the idea of being able to look at information regarding the flavors and the composition of meals.

Planning around carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamin, and mineral makeups of meals would save me a lot of time reading labels in the supermarket. As someone who likes to go out to eat every so often, I would use something like this if it were available.

Conventional Meal Searches

If you were to try to find information about food choices available at dining spots near you, you might be lucky enough to find a local dining guide, which provides a list of restaurants and their locations on a map.

That list of restaurants may display the name, phone number, address, and user ratings for each restaurant, and possibly a menu for the restaurant.

After selecting a restaurant, you might be able to visit an online menu for the restaurant, usually made up of textual description of the dishes offered by that restaurant.

If you’ve tried to do this yourself, and I have more than once, it can be time consuming, and often results in picking a place rather than a meal.

The big question is, would restaurants, shopping markets, and recipe sites be willing to participate and provide images and information either on their sites or to a search engine that would enable such a meal finder to work?

How a Meal Finder Search Might Work

This search focuses upon a way of selecting a meal, based upon viewing pictures of food dishes, through a simple and visual user interface. The steps involved:

  1. Search engine receives a user request to find a meal.
  2. Pictures of food dishes are presented, where each dish may represent a category of dishes.
  3. Each picture would have associated metadata describing characteristics of the food dish.
  4. One set of characteristics of a dish may include saltiness, sourness, sweetness, bitterness, savoriness, spiciness, astringency, leanness, fattiness, tingly numbness, hotness, and coldness.
  5. Another set of characteristics of a dish may include composition of carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamin, and minerals in the dish.
  6. The user is required to select a meal that seems most appealing.
  7. The selection is received, and the searcher’s input is analyzed according to the characteristics of each food dish presented.
  8. In addition to the specific selected dish or dishes, other food dishes that have not been selected by the searcher are analyzed to determine the user’s preferences.
  9. If the searcher has made a final selection, additional information is provided to the searcher possibly including one or more alternative dishes based upon that selection that can be chosen by the searcher instead.
  10. If the searcher has not made a final selection, a set of updated picture of food dishes is presented to the user.
  11. Additional food dishes may be recommended to complement the user’s selection. If a main dish has been chosen, a salad and/or a dessert may be presented to go with the main dish.
  12. Beverages may also be presented to go with the user’s selections of the food dishes.
  13. This process may link the searcher to websites of restaurants, recipe descriptions, or food markets where the user’s selected items may be found.

This process may use a recommendation method when presenting selected dishes to a searcher, displaying one or more alternative choices with a label stating “People Who Selected Dish n Also Like The Following Dishes.” When presenting complementary dishes such as salads or deserts or beverages, a sign stating “People Who Selected Dish n Also Like The Following items,” may be displayed.

Some Thoughts on this Patent Application

The idea of a patent filing on a Food Search Engine seemed somewhat silly when I first saw this in the patent database, but I’m beginning to warm up to the idea.

If restaurants and marketplaces and recipe sites participated, this food search engine could be possibly be very useful in helping people plan healthier meals. It would also provide a chance to look over a restaurant’s menu before making a drive and not seeing what was offered until a menu was placed in your hands.

Could it influence fast food restaurants to offer healthier choices? If they didn’t, people might start making healthier choices than fast food.

I very much like the idea of including information about flavors, and nutritional content of meals, and would hope that someone could filter selections based upon things such as carbohydrate levels.

But honestly, for many restaurants, the pictures I’ve seen of the meals that they offer usually look much better than the actual dish.

Searches for restaurants are one of the most popular aspects of local search engines. If the meal search engine described in this patent filing were to be developed, how would it be incorporated into the local searches that we are familiar with? Would other, more specialized searches be next, such as one solely devoted to places to stay such as hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and other lodgings?


Author: Bill Slawski

Share This Post On