“Professional Food Taster” sounds like a good job – but is it?
You might picture someone who gorges on chocolates all day, taking breaks between bites only long enough to quickly scribble notes before indulging again. But as pro tasters will tell you, it’s not all about just eating.
Lisa Schroeder is an associate sensory scientist, in other words, a professional taster, for Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S. Between bites of Snickers, M&M’s, and Skittles, Schroeder takes time to create computer programs to evaluate products, plans ahead for product launches, runs taste-testing panel sessions, and continues her own tasting education.
When she’s not taste testing soup, Jane Freiman, director of the Campbell’s Soup Co. consumer test kitchen, is evaluating new recipes and running taste panels.
Elizabeth McCall, master taster for distiller Woodford Reserve, doesn’t sip bourbon all day long – for obvious reasons. McCall spends time speaking at events, hosting tastings for clients, and improving the brand’s procedures and production facility.
If you’re still on board to become a taster, these three women can tell you how to do it.
Have a superior sense of taste.
Simply put, you can’t become a taster without a strong sense of taste—with the ability to focus on complex layers of flavors and differentiate them.
In fact, when you apply for a job as a professional taster, your tongue is the real interviewee, says Schroeder. “You [will] go through multiple screenings that focus on your experience with food and how you taste things,”
Learn to speak taste.
An excellent sense of taste alone won’t get you very far as a professional if you can’t communicate what you’re experiencing. “Learning how to describe foods and their attributes is a key part of the role,” Freiman says.
“For example, I cannot just say a product tastes ‘good.’ But I can describe a lemon with ‘it’s sweet but tart with a harsh bite.’”
Train the palate.
Here’s what McCall’s palate training was like: “We had aroma jars with different attributes and worked on creating the sensory memory of the different flavors,” she recalls.
Schroeder says she underwent six months of training. “I was trained to identify and refer back to specific tastes, textures, and other aspects of the ingredients we use,” she describes.
No culinary school necessary.
“Contrary to what many people might think, you do not need to go to culinary school to become a professional taste tester,” says Freiman. “I didn’t.”
Of course, Freiman admits she works with people who did graduate from culinary school.
“But,” she says, “I find it more important that a candidate is hard working, curious, and has a passion for food. This career takes years of dedication and training—and having such a love for this [career and for food] really makes the difference.”
Understand the evolving consumer.
It’s also important to stay in touch with what consumers are demanding.
“In this role, you must regularly talk to consumers about their taste preferences, learn how they cook, and what new foods they are interested in,” says Freiman.
With this information, you’ll be better armed to recommend recipe changes based on taste and consumer demand.
Never stop learning and refining your palate.
“There is always an opportunity to improve” says McCall as a professional taster.
She advises, “really pay attention while you are eating and drinking, think about the flavors and always work on describing what you are eating—in and out of work—even if you are just describing it to yourself,” she says.
In agreement, Schroeder points out:“Attend trainings when you can, even on products outside of your area of expertise.”
“Overall, my No. 1 piece of advice for an aspiring taste tester is to expand your food horizons and to try all kinds of foods,” Schroeder says.
It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.