By Kristen Wemer -Product Development Specialist
I’ve always been a taster.
At a potluck, I’m the one who puts a tiny scoop of every dish onto my plate. I prefer the array of bite-sized appetizers at cocktail parties to the sit-down dinner plate. My favorite ice cream shop serves half-scoops, so I can maximize the number of flavors I can try without stuffing myself too full. Grocery shopping is a practice in willpower, as I’d love to sample every block of cheddar cheese on the shelf so that I know which I’ll like best. I’ve been known to perform impromptu at-home taste tests of everything from chocolate chips to bourbon. And don’t even get me started on my wine tasting trip to Napa Valley.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to parlay my passion for flavors into a career where companies actually pay me money to taste and evaluate various items. Think dream job! I began as an intern tasting oils. Next, I climbed a level in the food pyramid to a stint tasting milk in the Quality Lab of a dairy. Ok, so dream job is relevant, but it gets better.
I took my professional tasting experience to my first job out of college tasting yogurt, and then I mixed it up with my next assignment: fish.
However, my job as a Product Development Specialist at Flavorman offers the ultimate sensory pastiche. The projects going on in the lab at any given time provide a smorgasbord of flavors and aromas that can dazzle even this seasoned taster. Not only do I taste the samples I’m working on, I get to sample the work of my colleagues. It’s something different every day, from the conventional to the extreme. All at once I can get my caffeine fix, satisfy my sweet tooth, expand my palate, and, greatest of all, ignite my imagination.
Too good to be true, right? Well here’s the catch: there is an ironic drawback to being an experienced taster– it can make one picky. As in discriminating, over-particular, critical, selective. Persnickety, if you will. During my internship tasting milk, I would perform tests on incoming raw milk to make sure it was safe to accept into the plant and pasteurize. Ninety percent of the time we would receive good, fresh milk. However, I promise you, those few times you taste that spoiled milk really stick with you—forever. I can remember the taste so vividly that it makes it easier for me to pick out those “off-notes”,even in acceptable milk. The same thing happens in the Flavorman lab. It only takes a time or two tasting an oxidized citrus flavor in a flavored vodka or the emerging bitterness of certain vitamins a few months into the shelf life of an energy drink, and I can detect these pungent flavors in the smallest amounts in any drink.
In some ways this is a blessing and a curse. There are sometimes when I wish I didn’t notice all tiny things that most people can’t even perceive – when the oil in my pantry has a hint of rancidity which makes it unpalatable, or when I cook tilapia and can’t get past the muddiness. However, I like being conscious of what I’m consuming and contemplating what I’m tasting. Because when it’s good, I know it’s really good.