8 Facts About Being A Flavourist
When was the last time you really took a moment to appreciate the flavour of your food?
If you consistently consume products from the grocery store than chances are you have eaten a product with added flavours. Any product that lists natural or artificial flavours on the label have had flavours added to them. Though have you ever considered who put it there?
A lollipop with out the added flavour is simply a piece of hard sugar with sweetness. It is when you add flavours magical things begin to happen and the possibilities are endless. A flavourist acts as a magician combining different flavours to create the perfect blend to make a magical treat. So let’s dive right in and learn the facts about being a flavourist and what their profession is all about.
1. A flavourist develops flavours for food products
A flavour chemist also known as a flavourist is:
an individual who works with natural and synthetic approved chemicals in order develop flavours for a variety of food products.
They work with a wide selection of tools like extracts, oils and flavour chemicals to create the perfect combination. At the same time they take into consideration how affordable, safe and fitting the components are for an application.
Many of the products you consume have added flavours such as beverages, yogurts and candies. During processing procedures occur such as heat-treatment causing food to loose its aroma components. Flavourists are responsible for helping the food get back what was lost as consumers prefer food with aroma components added.
2. Flavourists can be employed to different areas in the industry
Traditionally, flavourist are employed to an area of the food industry known as a flavour house. Flavour houses are departments which exclusively produce and sell flavour mixtures. Well known flavour companies include Firmenich, Givaudan and International Flavors & Fragrances.
Alternatively, a flavourist can be employed in the research and development department of food processing company. However, this route is not as common as the former.
3. Flavourists spend a lot of time in the lab
Flavourists are a specialized type of chemist so they spend an extensive amount of time in the laboratory. This profession consists of blending chemicals and analyzing them by using techniques such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). HPLC can help a flavourist determine what flavour chemical are present in a food, giving a direction to how they can mimic it. A customer may have an exact image in their mind or change it up meaning the flavourist has to be on their toes. It can take up to 70 or 80 tries to get a flavour right! This translates to a lot of time in the lab.
4. Flavourists begin with science/food science degree
Generally, flavourist begin their careers with a bachelor’s degree in food science or chemistry. Schools like Cornell or the University of Manitoba provide excellent programs in food science. Alternatively, a student can obtain a degree in chemistry at the University of Toronto or the University of California.
Having a B.Sc provides enough credentials to become a laboratory technician or research assistant. Many flavourtists also possess masters degrees or PhDs to further strengthen their knowledge but this is not a requirement.
5. Flavourists need to follow food trends
The world of flavours is often changing and it is the customers tastes which dictate this. Take for example the not so recent development of consumers wanting natural flavours. It is required by the flavourist to stay on top of these trends. They perform this by going to different conferences, keeping up with online food trends and looking to other companies who are leaders or newly emerging.
6. Becoming a certified flavourist takes takes time
In order to become a certified flavour chemist with the Society of Flavour Chemists you have to perform an extensive amount of work. Starting with an approved seven year apprenticeship and then a written test. As an apprentice you will learn how to recognize and remember flavours in mystery solutions. Furthermore, they tested to see if they can differentiate concentrations of sweetness at minute level.
After 5 years of being an apprentice the candidates are required to take a written/oral test. The applicant is asked questions regarding their knowledge surrounding flavours based on a general syllabus provided by the SFC. They are considered successful if they pass with a minimum of 80%. Afterwards, they are considered a junior flavorist and train for an additional two years.
There is one final examination which a junior flavorist must take to become a become a certified flavourist. During these tests they must achieve a minimum of 90% to attain the certified membership into the Society of Flavor Chemists.
You can enter the industry without the extensive apprenticeship but you will not be considered certified.
Want to learn more about the process of becoming a flavourist, check out our interview with Rachel Odolski.
7. Flavourists have a certain set of skills
As with any occupation there are certain sets of skills which will aid you better than others. For a flavourist these skills include:
- Having a good memory – A flavourist has to work with hundreds of different chemicals. When tasting they have to identify what flavours are present and what chemicals represent these notes. It would take too much time to constantly refer back to a manual!
- Strong mathematical skills – Chemist have to make multiple dilutions of solutions based on the potency of a chemical. They have to be comfortable working with mathematical equations to ensure what they think of in their head matches what is in front of them.
- Be creative – There is no recipe book for every single flavour out there so it is up to the flavourist to come up with what is best. Two flavourist can create a flavour which tastes identical but is composed of different components overall.
- Possess a superior palate- This is not so much a skill but an essential tool. A flavourists job is to taste things all day so it they need to have a strong tongue!
8. Flavourists are intuitive
Flavourists need to have a bit of intuition when speaking with customers. Many trained professionals in the food industry lack the language of explaining it is they want. Think about the flavour of ginger can you describe it with words other than spicy or sharp tasting? Flavourists are trained to describe ginger as lemony, woody, earthy and warm. Therefore, flavourist can figure out what a customer wants without explicitly saying it.
Understanding what their customers want is essential and having profession and close relationships only aids their intuition further.