How to Use IBM’s Chef Watson (+ Blueberry & Orange Muffin Recipe)

The other day, blueberries were on sale at the supermarket. Blueberries tend to be expensive here so I decided to grab my chance and buy some, not having a clue on what to use them for just yet. Somehow though, blueberries for me are linked to muffins. Blueberry muffins just look nice, thanks to the vibrant colours of the blueberry. Not wanting to make another basic blueberry muffin though I decided to try out a tool that had been on my science list for some time: Watson by IBM.

Watson is a computer from IBM who serves as a chef. Give him the ingredients you’re planning on using and he’ll advise you what other ingredients will fit well. This can give some surprising combinations (as you will see below) and a great topic for a blog post ;-).

Note, as of early 2020 IBM Chef Watson does not seem to be active anymore.

Who is Watson from IBM?

Watson isn’t a who, but more of an ‘it’. And also, Watson isn’t just a chef. There are a lot of ‘Watsons’. Watson is a software tool developed by IBM that can be used for all sorts of interaction between humans and computer. They can been used for having conversations with people, translating, recognizing speach, etc.

Watson is a complex computer application that is able to process huge amounts of data and evaluate these more as a human than a computer. They can find patterns in huge amount of data, but have to be trained by giving them an initial set of data. They can then evaluate this data and determine the potential patterns. Watson can even be trained over time, becoming ‘smarter’.

What is Chef Watson?

And this is where ‘chef Watson’ comes in. Chef Watson is still the same ‘cognitive computer application’, however, it has been learned to understand food. The developers have ‘fed’ Chef Watson thousands of recipes, teaching it which ingredients seem to work well together.

At the same time, they’ve taught Chef Watson the chemical composition of a lot of these components. Watson now knows which ingredients work well together, but also knows how similar these ingredients are from a chemical perspective.

Over time chef Watson could tell you which ingredients would work well together. And he wouldn’t just give you the common recommendations from the recipes. No, he would also advise combinations that don’t initially seem to make sense, but once made actually work really well together!

How does Chef Watson work?

So there I was, my blueberries ready on the countertop. And, remember the orange extract I made? I decided I wanted to test it, so I had my two ingredients: blueberries & orange (extract).

I filled these two ingredients into the IBM Chef Watson tool which you can freely access online. I only filled in these two ingredients. You can also choose to fill in only one ingredient or even three and you can choose the style of the dish. For instance, whether it’s Greek, Italian, Chinese, etc.

Based on your input you will get recommendations for ingredients that will go well with those you chose. The total number of ingredients will count up to 4. So I had my blueberries and orange and got two recommendations that would make a nice pairing of those four flavours. Good thing is though that you can scroll through these recommendations, I had a lot of meat recommendations which didn’t seem very suitable for a muffin. But I had at least 15 other ingredients that Chef Watson thought would go well with my blueberries & orange!

IBM Chef Watson - example anise
One of the recommendations IBM Chef Watson gave me (screenshot from the actual tool, it’s as simple as filling in the names of your ingredients and pressing next until you’ve got an appealing suggestion).

Blueberry, orange, peppers (!), yoghurt, anis & clove

Since I was making muffins I decided that all the meat recommendations didn’t make sense for me. And since I wanted to be adventurous, I decided to follow up on several of the recommendations of Chef Watson. That’s the fun thing of Chef Watson. It doesn’t limit you in one or two ingredients, instead, it just provides a source of inspiration for your next recipe!

In the end I used all the ingredients mentioned above: blueberries, orange zest, spicy chili pepper flakes (those gave a great zing! to my muffins, will for sure try that again!), yoghurt (other recommendation was cream cheese which I might try another time), anise and cloves (cloves made sense to me as I was using orange). Scroll down below to find the recipe I made, I can tell you it was a real hit!

Chef Watson for Food bloggers &Food industry

Since the tool is so easy to use I think it’s a great way to come up with new original recipes or products that you might not have come up with yourselves. Instead of having to find the latest trends all the time, you can produce some real original content or products that will surprise others. Besides, I’m sure that you’ll have a lot of fun in the process as well!

And there’s another recommendation they gave. Sometimes they are a little obvious, other citrus fruits passed by quite often as well.

Spicy blueberry & orange muffin

The base for my recipe is a recipe from Sally’s Baking addiction (one of my favourite baking blgs for sure!), I changed flavours around as well as the structure.

zested orange

Blueberry orange zestmuffin

Yield: 12 muffins
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

Spicy blueberry orange muffins with a zing! Makes enough for 12 muffins.


  • 110g butter
  • 150g cane sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 120g yoghurt
  • 3 tsp orange extract
  • 220g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 6 anise seeds (crushed)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp chili flakes (can be left out as well)
  • 150g blueberries


  1. Mix the butter, sugar, eggs, yoghurt & orange extract (easiest to first mix the butter & sugar and then add the eggs, yoghurt & orange extract).
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, anise, cloves and chili and mix it through the liquid ingredients (do not mix for too long, just until it's mixed; you can skip the pre-mixing, but make sure that you spices are mixed through well, I find that's often easier to do when it's just the flour).
  3. Fold in the blueberries. Save this to the last since mixing will undoubtly break the blueberries and you don't want to break all, your dough can come to liquidy.
  4. Fill your muffin cups/tray.
  5. Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes. They will be a nice golden brown when finished.

Further reading

Want to learn more about chef Watson? They’ve also published a cookbook with recipes made using his suggestions! Read more about Watson in general here as well as on the initial launch of Chef Watson.

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