Food processing keeps the foods we eat safe and makes them last longer. What you might not know is that food processing also removes natural flavors. As of result of this flavor loss, the flavor industry was born. The flavor industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that employs a very unique career... flavorists.
Flavorists, or flavor chemists, are scientists who create and duplicate flavors. The job requires detail oriented taste buds and a keen sense of smell to dissect natural flavors. It takes a solid grasp of chemistry with a dash of creativity to use aroma chemicals, oils, extracts and essences to match flavors.
Take a look at the food label of your favorite foods. Most likely there are artificial flavors listed. Artificial flavors resist food processing, freezing, and cooking, so your foods taste like it's supposed to taste. This science has not only improved the marketability of foods, but it also makes for bigger, bolder, longer lasting tastes.
To be a flavorist, you must understand natural flavors because the goal of the job is to duplicate natural flavors. This means having a well-traveled taste palate and reading lots of cookbooks so you can analyze flavors. It's hard to do. Can you describe what an Orange tastes like? How about Dr. Pepper? Our taste buds can only taste sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami, which makes our sense of smell very important when creating delicious and distinct flavors.
Creating flavors is a scientific art. Sometimes flavorists are tasked with creating unique tastes. One flavorist used a mixture of sweat, dirt, sweet cream, vanilla, musk, aromatics, and honey to create an "erotic" flavor. Other flavorists have to create flavors for tropical punches or for the grill flavor of a hamburger. Some play with ethyl butyrate to perfect the taste of orange juice. The tasks are endless.
Chemistry and biochemistry are important because creating flavors is very complicated. There are often two ways to create the exact same thing. It all depends on how things are blended and the order that they are mixed. Flavorists need to understand how chemicals react, what chemicals create what tastes, and how chemicals interact with other ingredients.
Flavorists create flavor profiles and determine ingredients. They use high tech laboratory equipment to extract, distill, and separate the chemicals and ingredients. When a flavor is created it must then be applied to different foods.
Even though most flavorists receive advanced degrees in chemistry or biochemistry, it's still challenging to find jobs at flavor houses. There are only about 1,000 flavorists worldwide. The few job openings that are available are posted online at flavor companies or in the Perfumer and Flavorist Magazine.
After a flavorist finds a job, an apprenticeship is mandatory to learn the trade properly. The Society of Flavor Chemists requires a 5 year apprenticeship to become a Junior Flavorist and an additional 2 years to be certified as a Senior Flavorist.
It takes a long time to learn the flavor technology trade, but the joys of taste exploration are worth it. Imagine how boring food would be without unique flavors. Keep flavor alive and pursue a career as a flavorist.
Quick Facts About Flavorist Work
Job Title: Flavorist, Flavor Chemist
Office: Flavor Development Laboratory
Description: Create and duplicate flavors for food, beverages, and other products
Certifications/Education: 5 to 7 year apprenticeship, Chemistry degree recommended
Necessary Skills: Strong sense of smell and taste, Recordkeeping, Chemistry, Creativity
Potential Employers: Flavor Companies, Flavor Houses
Pay: $50,000 to $200,000 per year
Society of Flavor Chemists
Perfumer and Flavorist Magazine
Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association
National Association of Flavors and Food Ingredient Systems
Flavor Knowledge Systems
International Organization of the Flavor Industry