The life of a food taster

…professional-eater salaries run the gamut. Since most work in food science or product development, those who taste for a living can be entry-level employees earning between $30,000 and $60,000 or senior execs raking in six figures, according to industry insiders.

In any case, many live the good life in terms of what they get to try, like trained wine drinkers or Godiva’s [products].

But others, like taster Ann Hollingsworth, have tested somewhat less sumptuous foods – in her case, hotdogs and other meats for industry giants like McDonald’s and Sara Lee.

The workload sounds especially appealing:

Generally, tasters are only used for about an hour a day total – often only for a few minutes at a time.

“You can’t just sit down there for four or five hours at a time,” said Caporaso, who has run panels for companies like Baskin-Robbins, Pfizer (when it had a food division), Nestle Carnation and Lipton. “You get fatigued.” [This reminds me of similar arguments I have heard about teaching!]

To preserve her palate (and her stomach), Koen generally only tastes three different pieces of chocolate a day, usually when the company is developing a new product. She also samples competitors’ chocolates.

In some unusual instances Koen will have to taste 50 chocolate pieces a day: “After all that decadence, she usually takes a week-long respite from chocolate eating.”

Just one kind of taster does not suffice:

Food and beverage companies need two kinds of tasters before their products hit the market.

The professionals are either outside contractors or internal food scientists, chefs and product developers trained to analyze flavor intensity, sweetness or bitterness, texture and product consistency. In-house tasters are often used because of convenience, their experience with that food and company secrecy. But they can become biased, which is why some businesses call on outsiders to do some tasting.

Consumer tasters are members of the general public who evaluate whether they love or hate a product, after the professionals have fine-tuned the formula.

There is also such a thing as a super-taster [N.B. I consider myself an unpaid super-taster!]:

…a “super taster” [has] a particularly discerning palate. Super tasters have between twice and four times as many tastebuds on their tongues as the average person and are picky eaters, according to Caporaso.

“Sometimes the super tasters are a detriment because they’re picking up these little nuances in the product that the average consumer can’t detect,” he said.

Life as a supertaster can be especially tough. One individual was told he had the talent of a supertaster, but he declined to pursue the profession. He said he could not stand the idea of having to taste so many random foods, rather than just eating what he likes. Some tasters have had to sample birth control pills and dog food. Here is the full story.


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