Do you find hot spicy foods unbearable? Dislike the bitterness of coffee, red wine and grapefruit? Find fatty foods and rich desserts unpalatable? If you answered yes, then you may be a supertaster. Supertasters have enhanced senses of taste and smell, and are particularly sensitive to strong and bitter tastes. Around a quarter of all people experience flavour intensely and are known as supertasters, while everyone else is either a medium taster or a non-taster. I live with one of the latter – a true ‘condiment king’ who refuses to eat anything I cook unless it’s smothered in chilli sauce, mustard, pepper or pickle. What tastes bland to him, tastes fine to me and he can’t understand why I nearly pass out at a whiff of his super stinky cheese.
Having supertaster tendencies can be restrictive in terms of diet but mixed together with a background in chemistry or food science, you have the ingredients to be a flavourist. The role of a flavourist is to recreate natural (and not so natural) flavours which are then used in packaged and processed foods. Every flavour from strawberry to seaweed can be mimicked in a lab, and weird new flavours invented. Who decided what a ‘South Seas Kiwi’ jelly bean should taste like? Probably a flavourist. Given that an estimated 90% of supermarket products contain flavours, it is hardly surprising that the flavour industry is more secretive than the Waihopai Spy Base. For a sneak peek behind the scenes (or should that be senses?), check out this interesting interview with a flavourist who works for Symrise, one of the world’s top “fragrance and flavour houses”. She wants to ‘take the flavour of strawberry jam on toast and put it in yoghurt.’ Brilliant. The Secret Art of Flavour Making (Stuff)
Due to consumer preference, some companies such as Tip Top are replacing artificial colours and flavours in their products with natural ones. So possibly the role of a flavourist now includes discovering ways of replacing the artificially created flavour with a natural alternative that tastes the same as the artificial one. Sounds mad but in a competitive industry like this one, it will never be dull!
It may not be an essential prerequisite to the role of flavourist, but you can find out if you are a supertaster by sticking out your tongue. Those red bumps you can see (fungiform papillae) house your taste buds. If you have more than 35 papillae in a small area, then congratulations, you qualify as a supertaster. Here’s how to do the test: Discover if you’re a supertaster (BBC Science)