Making the world taste great
Often the role of the flavourist goes well beyond creating flavours, into the realm of innovation and discovery as they work with new materials, researching to find ingredients that can help make the best tasting creations.
Today’s flavourists are part of a tradition of expertise and innovation in flavour that stretches back to the earliest civilisations. The ancient Egyptians flavoured their dishes with herbs, spices and honey. The 14th century saw the rise of lemon zest and vanilla while garlic, cinnamon and roasted coffee became popular in the 17th. All the way up to the first artificial flavours of the Industrial Revolution in the late 17th and early 18th centuries; when scientific research saw an explosion in the palette of flavours and fragrances.
Givaudan’s flavour journey began as early as 1796 with the import and export of essential oils by American firm Dodge & Olcott, through the 1800s with German companies Kurt Oestrich and Westfälische Essenzenfabrik – names of companies which heralded the birth of the flavours industry and eventually became part of Givaudan. With the 1948 acquisition of Esrolko, a synthetic flavourings house near Zurich, Givaudan integrated flavours as new dimension, expanding its business to fragrances and flavours.
For Lisa, a student on Givaudan’s flavourist trainee programme, discovering that it was possible to dedicate your career to creating flavours was a personal revelation.
“As a child I was always baking, making cookies with my mum,” she says. “Then I went to university to study chemistry, but I missed the connection with food. When I met someone who told me about the world of flavours and that there was such a thing as flavourist, I knew immediately what I wanted to do.”
She applied for the Givaudan trainee position and went through the interview process. Three years on, she’s about to graduate.
“I love it. It’s a great programme,” she enthuses. “It’s really a lot to learn in three years, but we’re in groups of four so we can help each other and learn together.” And not all the trainees have a chemistry background. “One of the others in my group also has a chemistry degree,” she says. “But the other two have food science and consumer science degrees. Everyone’s different.”
It's a three-year course broken into six modules The first five modules comprise training in raw materials, beverages, sweet, savoury and snacks The final module combines on-the-job training with working on a thesis Trainees have an excellent sense of taste and smell, great organisational skills and, usually, a first degree in a science subject
Four facts about Givaudan’s flavourist trainee programme
It's a three-year course broken into six modules
The first five modules comprise training in raw materials, beverages, sweet, savoury and snacks
The final module combines on-the-job training with working on a thesis
Trainees have an excellent sense of taste and smell, great organisational skills and, usually, a first degree in a science subject
The first year of the course is dedicated to learning around 500 of an eventual 2,500 or so raw materials by name, smell and taste – and learning in what quantities each raw material should be used to create the perfect flavour. Flavourists must also have at their fingertips hundreds of flavour descriptors like ‘smoky, ‘green’, ‘nutty’, etc., to get round the fact that in most languages there aren’t many words to describe smells and taste. This is part of something called the Sense It™ language: a standardised list of descriptors devised by Givaudan that flavourists and customers use to communicate more effectively with each other.
Watch the video: Making the world taste great
Creating great tasting food products
Ricardo, a senior flavourist at Givaudan, explains that creating a flavour is about so much more than simply making something taste great.
“Taste is a sensory experience,” he says. “It includes colour, texture, temperature, pungency… everything plays a part in the overall feeling… Flavourists captivate consumers by achieving a perfect harmony of all these feelings and sensations; something deeper that can take them on an emotional journey with each bite.”
“Using your knowledge of all the flavour ingredients such as extracts, citrus oils and spices you start thinking about what levels of each ingredient you’ll need to create a certain flavour,” adds Lisa. “Like a chef, you make a recipe, you prepare it and you test it, and then you start tweaking it.” Often the role of the flavourist goes well beyond creating flavours, into the realm of innovation and discovery as they work with new materials, researching to find ingredients that can help make the best tasting creations.
A huge part of the role of flavourist is to respond to consumers’ wants and needs in their food products, from making food taste amazing without adding sugar, salt or fat, to Lisa’s area of focus: meat substitutes. “We can’t carry on eating meat like we are now,” she explains. “Meat alternatives cannot work without flavours, because they would just taste like soya, or whatever protein you’ve chosen. In the end I want to see no discernible taste difference with real meat.”
Every time we taste something that whisks us straight back to our Grandma’s kitchen, or tastes like beef but contains none, or tastes like a full sugar product but has a sugar-free recipe, we’re consuming a vast amount of expertise in every bite and sip. For that, we can thank a flavourist.