What is a flavorist?

Flavorists, or flavor chemists, are scientists with such a highly developed sense memory that they can recognize chemicals, essential oils, and extracts through taste and smell alone. Flavorists are also able to blend individual chemicals to create flavors for specific food applications.

When I say chemicals, I’m referring to naturally occurring carbon-based compounds that form the basis of flavors in all of the food we eat. I’ve never understood when people say something tastes natural or like chemicals. We tend to forget that we are made of chemicals and that everything we eat is, too.

What kind of background does a flavorist need?

Flavorists require a solid scientific background—for instance, a B.S. in food science, chemistry, biochemistry or molecular biology—and they must train constantly to be able to recognize chemicals by taste and smell. The craft of blending chemicals and essential oils to create flavors require creativity and an open mind. It takes at least five to seven years of hard work under a senior flavorist to be considered a flavorist. A keen flavorist can recognize 700 to 1,000 compounds by smell or taste and knows their molecular structure by heart.

Why are flavors used in beverages?

Beverages are made mainly of water. Of course, there are many other ingredients as well—sugar or other sweeteners, fruit juice, or salt. That’s why flavors must be customized. But beverages are the most difficult application because the flavors must be perfectly balanced. Most beverages are also heat treated with UHT or pasteurization for preservation, concentrating their flavors. We always say that flavors are a beverage’s signature.

Is it possible to create a commercial product with a long shelf life without flavorings?

It depends on what you mean by a long shelf life. It’s possible for highly perishable products like milk, but not for shelf-stable ones.

All shelf-stable products are pasteurized. When a beverage is heat-treated to improve shelf life, its ingredients interact and change the product’s fundamental nature.

We don’t often talk about the convenience factor and how difficult it can be to meet all consumer demands. Consumers want a shelf-stable product that doesn’t taste pasteurized, which is impossible. There is always a trade-off between convenience and shelf life, between small batch and industrial batch, refrigerated products with a 20-day shelf life and products that stay good at room temperature for a year. Consumers have high expectations, some of which are mutually exclusive. They want a beverage that tastes good but that fits their lifestyle.

How does Foodarom create signature flavors for beverages?

Every beverage flavor profile is custom-made. I believe in working closely with every client. First, it is vital to understand that flavors are not commodities; they are tailor-made. Every product on the market is different and targets a different audience. Clients work with our R&D team to create the perfect flavor profile for their specific product. Of course, with our huge library of flavors, we can sometimes find great building blocks to speed up the creation process, but we always fine-tune them afterward. The more closely the client’s R&D team works with ours, the better the signature flavor comes out, and the higher the chance of creating an outstanding product.

How does Foodarom create signature flavors to help its clients stand out?

Like most other flavor companies, we have a database of marketing information that we use for inspiration, but I believe in staying even further ahead of the curve. Foodarom’s strength lies in its informal network of passionate foodies (chefs, flavorists, mixologists, and others) who come together to determine new trends, the next big thing. We always try to stay ahead of the trends. Some of the products that are just now coming out on the market were ones we designed years ago. For instance, we’ve been working on collagen beverages for the last five years, and they are just now appearing on shelves.

We also prioritize diversity on our R&D team to allow us to draw ideas and applications from other cultures. The world is shrinking, and most consumers are very open to trying cuisines from other countries. Chicha morada, an ancient corn-based beverage from the Peru region, is a perfect example of a product that will do well in Europe and North America. We have been promoting its flavor in various beverages over the past three years.

Are there any special challenges when it comes to functional and alcoholic drinks?

Active ingredients in functional beverages (proteins, vitamins, minerals, sugar substitutes, etc.) are always challenging to work with. We either have to embrace a flavor profile that works well with the active ingredients, or we must mask their off-notes. There is no single solution. Masking techniques are also always customized. One size does not fit all in this case.

Alcoholic beverages are different. Alcohol always complicates things. Alcoholic beverages take time and aging before they can be approved. Flavors have to steep in the alcohol base for several days before we can fully assess their impact. In our fast-moving modern times, alcoholic beverages remind us that designing the perfect finished product takes time.

What are the new trends now? Mocktails? Seltzers? Functional beverages?

One big emergent trend that we’re seeing and that will continue to gain traction in the years to come is the holistic wellness lifestyle—and by holistic, I mean a lifestyle that not only takes physical wellness into consideration, but also mental, emotional, and even spiritual wellness. Consumers are now looking for products that are nutritious and that also boost their mood and emotional well-being.

Innovation will continue to focus on health and wellness, with beverages promoting added benefits. Botanicals, mood- and brain-boosters, and ingredients that relax and calm will become increasingly commonplace in new product developments, along with new flavors that enhance those ingredients such as vibrant fruit and floral pairings and new native varieties of citrus.

From this, we can infer that people will continue consuming food and beverages as medicine in the years to come to nourish their bodies and minds.