What is Flavor Science

When people ask me what sort of work I do, I don’t want to answer. I’m a flavor chemist, but it’s easier to say I’m a chemist or that I work in the food industry. It’s challenging explaining my work. Usually when I say I’m a flavor chemist, people assume I’m a good cook. My husband may not agree, he’s the amazingly good cook in our family. He loves cooking; I love eating. A perfect match.

There are many scientists employed in the flavor industry. We are educated, interesting, passionate people. Some flavor scientists focus on extracting essences, oils and other flavor components from plants, fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and meat products. Some flavor scientists focus on identifying key aroma components of those extracts. Technology is advanced enough that  scientists can identify over  350 volatile aroma chemicals in natural peppermint oil. Most food stuff: strawberries, coffee, vanilla, bread, cheese are naturally composed of hundreds of aroma chemicals. Mother nature is responsible for this. These natural aromas make our food taste good. When our food is processed (heat-treated or packaged to make shelf stable), food loses its aroma components. Certain products: candy, gum, toothpaste lack flavor and are more palatable with flavor. In general, consumers prefer their food with flavor (aroma components) added. Yes, flavor chemists add chemicals to food, but our food stuffs are naturally composed of chemicals. We keep our flavors recipes secret by labeling them “flavors”.  We do not do this to deceive the consumer; we do this to protect our trade secrets.

Flavorists or Flavor Chemists focus on compounding flavors for use in applications: beverages, yogurt, chewing gums, toothpaste, etc. We select the natural extracts and aroma components to add to make the item taste good, be affordable, safe, fit product label, and have lasting impact. We have over a thousand materials (natural extracts and aroma chemicals) to choose from and they are all approved for use in food. Flavor professionals  are creative, passionate scientists that have knowledge of the market, have a good palate and have a willingness to try new things. Since I love food and chemistry, flavor science is a perfect fit for me. There are constantly new challenges and I enjoy the problem solving.  The most satisfying part of my work is seeing my flavor creations in market products.

Some of my more interesting projects have been to flavor alcohol to taste like wine, flavoring golf tees (evidently golfers suck on these?), and flavoring denture cleaner (not to taste, but to smell good). My career path has been full of variety. I’ve flavored dried fruit, bagels, onion rings (vanilla flavor), nutritional beverages, smoothies, vitamins, candy, chewing gum, soup cups, chips, peanut butter, vodka, yogurt, ice cream, chai tea, donut filling, pie filling, cookies, body building protein shakes, nutritional shakes, energy drinks, teas, coffees, puddings….etc.

Food scientists primary focus is producing a safe product and their secondary focus is making it taste good. A food product on the market must be safe and it needs to taste good to sell. Food scientists focus on processing, formulations, consumers, labels and taste. Food scientists and flavor chemists work together on new products for the market or changing existing products because, after all, it’s gotta taste good!

More information on Flavor Chemists can be found at http://www.flavorchemist.org/ and http://www.insidejobs.com/jobs/flavorist

and Food Scientists at  http://www.ift.org/