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Vice President, Senior Flavorist at International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc.
Ever wonder how popcorn gets that buttery flavor or how nachos get to taste like guacamole? That's the job of a flavorist, such as Marie Wright. Read more about her career choice.
1. What is a flavorist?Some refer to my career as a flavor chemist but I prefer the term used in Europe, flavorist. I am involved in flavoring different foods such as chewing gums, snack foods, ice creams, yogurts beverages and baking products. I might develop a pomegranate, blueberry, or cherry beverage, a mint or mango chewing gum or a bacon flavored chocolate! Yes, bacon,it's is a popular flavor for chocolate at the current time. There are also bacon flavored lollypops, gum-balls and even ice cream!
2. How did you become interested in this career choice?Did something spark an interest in your childhood?As a child, I really didn't know about the career as a flavorist. However, I was introduced to many different spices and herbs, since my family had Italian and Turkish heritage. As a family, we also vacationed in the south of France, where I also got to experience different fragrances, herbs and spices. In college, I studied chemistry and learned about flavoring and decided that this was the career for me.
3. What is the best part about your career choice?Flavor is my passion. I love the process of working with new flavors. I also like that in my job, everyday is different and never boring. I get to travel all over the world and continue to learn something new all the time. It's also rewarding to create a flavor in the lab which tastes like what you are hoping to achieve!
4. Are there any negatives about your career choice?To become a flavorist you have to train under someone who has years in the field. Training takes several years where you learn the basics of creating flavors. It's definitely a career where you learn on the job. It can be very frustrating in the early days, not feeling competent and taking 20 tries before developing a flavor(which now might take only two tries to create) Did you know that there are approximately 15,000 different natural food flavors? At the lab, we work with about 6,000. It's a delicate balance trying to create a flavor, for example,strawberry. You may get the the smell of strawberry but you might not get the taste.Too much or too little of one ingredient will change the result.
5. Do you have a specific memory that you'd like to share about being a flavorist?Sometimes it's tricky to make a flavor of something that is foreign to you. I remember being asked to develop a flavor for a company in Australia.They wanted a flavor that tasted like a witchetty grub,a popular small white larvae of the ghost moth, eaten in the country. Not having eaten one, I had to sample it to try and develop its flavor. I didn't really enjoy eating the bug!
6. What can young people do now who might be interested in your career choice?You need a strong background in science, especially chemistry. You need to know how a created flavor will react when heated in an oven. That cinnamon flavor may taste great but when placed in a muffin and baked,the flavor may break down and not taste the same way! Math is another important subject. I would say that a young person that is interested in a career as a flavorist should spend time in a kitchen to see if they get pleasure creating foods to eat. You need a nose and palette that can determine flavors and lots of imagination to have fun creating flavors.Curiosity, patience, record-keeping, working with others,and communication skills are also important to being a successful flavorist.
7. What's a typical day like for your career choice?There are no typical days and that's something I really like about my job. I may be creating flavors in the lab, having tasting meetings or meeting with clients. I may also be traveling and speaking at conventions.
8.What does your lab look like? What is YOUR favorite flavor?My lab is very pretty with beautiful paintings hanging on the walls and music is usually being played. There are shelves with bottles of different ingredients such as extracts from the juices of strawberries. There is glassware on the granite tabletops, a balance, and different utensils. As for my personal favorite flavor, it's raspberries, which is often the aroma that greets you as you walk into my lab.
9. Any final comments for young people about your career choice?Do you like the smell of lilacs or roses? Do you hate the smell of paprika or cloves?Did you know that the same part of the brain that processes emotions and memories also processes flavors?That means that flavors will often bring back memories in people. And, our strongest connections to aromas are made before we are 10 years old.
Photograph from Marie Wright-THANK YOU!