What Is It Like to Be a Food Flavorist?

What Is It Like to Be a Food Flavorist?

The next time you bite into a blueberry granola bar, crunch on some sour cream and onion potato chips, or take a sip of orange soda pop, you should thank a food flavorist. These are the scientists who work behind the scenes in the food industry, creating and combining different flavors to create the delicious, unique tastes of the products you love. However, although food flavorists do very important work—many packaged food and beverage products contain some combination of natural and/or artificial flavors—most consumers don’t even know they exist. This post is designed to change that with a look at some important things that everyone who loves delicious food should know about food flavorists.

Flavorists develop flavors for food.

The name might be self-explanatory, but given the obscurity of this profession, it’s worthwhile to spell it out: food flavorists develop flavors for food products. In practice, this means that food flavorists work with a wide selection of natural and synthetic tools—including extracts, oils, and flavor chemicals—to create flavor combinations that are used to boost the taste of food and beverage products, as well as replace or supplement the natural flavors of a food that may have been lost during processing. Flavorists are also known as flavor chemists.

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Flavorists work in different areas of the food industry.

Traditionally, flavorists are employed by “flavor houses.” These are companies that exclusively develop, manufacture, and sell flavor mixtures for use by food and beverage producers. (Some of the world’s most important flavor houses include Firmenich, Givaudan, and International Flavors & Fragrances). Alternatively, some food manufacturers choose to work on their own flavorings through an in-house research and development department. In these cases, they directly employ their own flavorists.

The start of a career as a flavorist is a science degree.

As suggested by the alternate name of “flavor chemist,” a food flavorist is a very specialized type of chemist. This means that most flavorists will begin their careers by studying food science or chemistry at the undergraduate level: it’s important to note that there are no actual degree programs for flavor chemistry, although there are a number of institutions that offer short courses and workshops. After completing a bachelor’s degree, many flavorists go on to study at the master’s or PhD level in order to further their skills.

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Flavorists have their own society.

The Society of Flavor Chemists is a nonprofit industry organization dedicated to advancing the field of flavor technology and associated sciences. Becoming a member of the Society of Flavor Chemists is widely accepted as the industry standard of excellence for flavorists. However, it’s not an easy task. In order to become a certified member, a flavorist must complete a minimum of a seven-year apprenticeship under the supervision of a flavorist who is already a certified Society member. After the first five years of the apprenticeship, the candidate will complete a comprehensive written and oral examination to test their knowledge of the field of flavor technology. If they pass the exam with a minimum of 80%, the candidate is considered a junior flavorist and trains for an additional two years. A final round of tests is conducted at the end of this period before the junior flavorist can become a fully certified Society member.

Flavorists have to stay on top of current trends.

While flavorists may spend a lot of time in a lab doing their work, they are far from the stereotype of the square scientist disconnected from current trends. On the contrary, flavorists always have to be on top of what’s hot (and what’s not) in the food industry at any given moment so they can satisfy the demands of their customers, or kick off the next big flavor trend themselves.

Flavorists share a number of important qualities.

The following qualities and skills are very important in the field of flavor chemistry:

An excellent sense of smell—A keen and sensitive sense of smell is absolutely essential for a flavorist. Smell is a huge part of our sense of taste, and flavorists must be able to differentiate between very subtle scent and flavor combinations.

A good memory—Flavorists work with hundreds of different chemicals every day and must be able to identify from memory which flavors are present and which chemicals represent these flavors.

Strong math skills—Depending on a chemical’s potency, flavorists have to make multiple dilutions of different solutions in order to achieve the desired result. An easy facility with math and equations is therefore very important.

Creativity—Consumers are always looking for new and exciting flavors, and it’s the job of a flavor chemist to dream up and deliver those flavors. A sense of creativity and innovation, as well as a willingness to experiment, are some of the qualities that help flavorists conceive and develop these delicious new tastes.

Patience—It can take a long time to get a flavor right. Sometimes, a flavorist will have to try 70 or 80 different combinations in order to find the perfect one. This means that a flavorist has to be patient and not rush the process.

Mark CrumpackerMark Crumpacker is the CMO and President of Zume Culinary at Zume Inc.,  the Silicon Valley company that has revolutionized the pizza delivery business through its fleet of mobile kitchens outfitted with smart ovens. Mark has more than two decades of experience in the realm of consumer behavior and its effect on brands’ marketing strategies. Mark studied economics at the University of Colorado and earned a bachelor of fine arts in advertising and graphic design from the ArtCenter College of Design. You can follow Mark on Twitter at @markcrumpacker and read his full bio here