Today I launched a really cool new feature to That's Groce!: Ability to upload photos of ingredients and have the food words automatically suggested to be added to your shopping list.
It's best explained with this 26-second video.
The idea is that you know you're going to cook that Vegetarian Curry Lasagna on page 123 in Jamie's Summer Cookbook. Either you read the ingredients and type in each ingredient you're going to need to buy (because you know what's in your pantry and fridge) or just take a photo of the whole ingredient listing. Now, when you're in the store and wonder: "I remember I need red peppers, but how many was it again?!".
But not only that, once you've taken a photo of the list of ingredients, it can help you populate your shopping list.
How it works in That's Groce! is that your photo is turned into a block of text, and from that text certain "food words" are extracted and all else is ignored. The food words are based on a database of 3,600+ English food words that I've gathered and also manually curated. There are lots of caveats. The 3,600+ food words are not perfect and there are surprisingly many combinations and plural vs. singular that can make the list incomplete. But, that's where you can help! If you find that there's a word it correctly scanned but didn't suggest, you can type in your own suggestions for everyone to benefit from. If you type in something it didn't manage to spot, I'll review that and add it to the global database.
The word recognition is done using Google Cloud Vision API which is a powerful machine-learning-based service from Google Cloud that is stunningly accurate. Tidy camera photos of cookbooks with good light is nearly perfect, but it can also do an impressive job with photos of handwritten recipes, like this:
One thing you will find is that it's often hard to only take a photo of the actual list of ingredients. Often, a chunk of the cooking instructions or the recipe "back story" gets into the photo frame. These words aren't actually ingredients and can lead to surprising food word suggestions that you definitely don't need to buy. It's not perfect but at least you'll have a visual memory of what you're cooking as you're standing there in the grocery store.
Understandably, it's nearly impossible for the app to know what you have in your pantry/fridge/freezer/spice rack. But a lot of recipes spell out exactly everything you need, not for buying, but for cooking. E.g. 1 teaspoon salt. But salt (or pepper or sugar or butter) is the kind of foodstuff you probably always have at home. So then it doesn't make sense to suggest that you put "salt" on the shopping list. To solve for that, you can override your own preferred options of special keywords. For example, I've added "salt", "pepper", "sugar, "table salt", "black pepper" as words that can always be ignored. You can also train the system to set up aliases. For example, a lot of recipes call for "lemon zest" but what you actually purchase is a lemon and then grate it yourself on the grater. So you can add special keywords that act as aliases for other words. Here's one example:
Over the last couple of days, I've been snapping lots of photos from lots of different cookbooks, and every time I begin to think the database is getting good, I stumble on some new food word. For example, I recently tested a photo of a recipe that called for "Jackfruit". What even is that?! Anyway, it is inevitable that certain words are missing. But that's where we can help each other. If you test it out and you notice that it correctly scanned the text but the word wasn't suggested, click the "Suggest" button and type in your suggestions. Together we can, one food word at a time, eradicate misses.
There's still some work to be done to make the database even stronger by setting up clever aliases for everyone. For example, a lot of recipes call for "(some number) cloves garlic" but it can easily get confused for the spice "cloves" and the root vegetable "garlic". So, perhaps we can train it to recognize "cloves garlic" to actually just mean "garlic".
Also, the database is currently only in (primarily American) English. The platform would support other languages but I would definitely need a hand to seed it with more words in other languages.
If you haven't set up an account yet (it's still free!), to test it, you can go to https://thatsgroce.web.app, click "Get started without signing in", go into your newly created shopping list, and press the "Photos" button. Try uploading some snapped photos from your cookbooks. Please please let me know what you think!