5 Traits of Professional Food Tasters
Not to be confused with amateur tasters, who are typically enlisted for consumer research or other purposes once a product is developed, professional food tasters usually work directly for a food manufacturer or another related company.
Although required education is typically dependent on the employer, there are some common traits that professional food tasters typically possess.
1. No Colorblindness
Leaders in sensory science want members of professional tasting panels to be as controlled as possible. In addition to not allowing those who are colorblind to participate, they also tend to prohibit pregnant or lactating women, as taste changes in that demographic. Specific to colorblindness, the condition can be a detriment due to the visual aspects of food being just as important as smell and taste.
2. Professional Education
Although level of education is usually dependent on employers, most require that professional tasters either hold a bachelor’s degree in a physical or food science, or a certificate in specific areas of sensory analysis. Some examples of such programs include the certificate program in applied sensory and consumer science at the University of California-Davis, the wine and beverage graduate certificate at The Culinary Institute of America, and the food safety and defense graduate certificate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Some independent tasting organizations also require a minimum level of experience in the food industry.
3. Sensory Acuity
In addition to formal education, sensory acuity is perhaps the most important trait of professional food tasters. It’s not enough that a product tastes “good” or “bad;” tasters must be able to distinguish specific characteristics of all of the items they taste. They must also have an acute sense of smell, as many researchers say taste is 80% about smell. Chefs and product developers who serve as professional tasters are often trained to analyze flavor intensity, sweetness or bitterness, texture and product consistency.
4. No Smoking
Although being a smoker is not necessarily a deal breaker, professional tasters cannot smoke or eat at least 30 minutes before a tasting. In addition to impairing sense of taste, one study conducted in Greece found that smoking can also change the shape of taste buds. In smokers, they are generally found to be flatter and not as sensitive.
5. No Food Allergies
Having food allergies could definitely be a detriment to professional food tasters, as they tend to try all different types of food products on the job.
In addition to the traits listed above, professional tasters must usually refrain from wearing fragrant items like perfume or cologne on the day of a test, and they must be open about any food preferences or dietary restrictions, including whether they are vegan or vegetarian.
Donaldson-Evans, Catherine, “Professionals Tasters Eat and Drink for a Living,” FoxNews.com. 13 January 2004.
Saelinger, Tracy, “The Truth About Being a Taste Tester: It’s Not Always Tasty,” Today.com. 19 February 2013.
Hendrick, Bill, “Cigarette Smoking Dulls Taste,” WebMD Health News, 21 August 2009.