The Flavorists: Tweaking tastes and creating cravings

Meet the scientists who create flavors that make foods and beverages so tasty that critics say they're addictive

When you chug a sports drink or chew a stick of gum, you probably don't think of science. But there is a precise science, and a delicate art, behind what you're tasting. Morley Safer reports on the multibillion dollar flavor industry, whose scientists create natural and artificial flavorings that make your mouth water and keep you coming back for more.


The following is a script of "The Flavorists" which aired on Nov. 27, 2011 and was rebroadcast on Sept. 2, 2012. Morley Safer is correspondent, Ruth Streeter, producer.

If you're overweight, and the chances are you are, it's probably because you eat too much, too much of the wrong stuff. Most of the wrong stuff we eat comes in a bottle, a can, or a box -- food that's been processed.

As we reported in November, much of that food has been flavored. The flavoring industry is the enabler of the food processing business which depends on it to create a craving for everything from soda pop to chicken soup. It is Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory as a multibillion dollar industry; an industry cloaked in secrecy. But recently Givaudan, the largest flavoring company in the world, allowed us in to see them work their magic.

[Jim Hassel: So definitely an aroma, the mandarin, dancy tangerine. Real mild though. Not in your face.]

These are "super sniffers," "super tasters"...

[Andy Daniher: And more bitter.]

...on the prowl. The special forces - first responders to the call for the next best taste.

[Andy Daniher: The mandarin notes are fantastic.]

They are braving the wilds of a citrus grove in Riverside, California, where Jim Hassel - whose nose and palette are legendary - leads a Givaudan team on a taste safari. Big game hunters in search of the next great taste in soft drinks. Their inspiration? The greatest flavorist of them all: Mother Nature.

Jim Hassel: Seeing everything that's available really just drives the whole creative process.

Morley Safer: Like an artist going to Rome or something?

Hassel: Correct. Correct.

Safer: But the ultimate purpose is to sell more soft drinks or whatever?

Hassel: That's what we're in the business of, selling flavors.

Safer: Let's go sniffing.

Our perception of taste is largely located in the nose, but described in the language of music.

Dawn Streich: Do you get like a tropical note? A little bit of papaya? Potentially?

Andy Daniher: Cotton candy note?

Dawn Streich: Cotton candy a little bit.

They are plotting how to move the flavors they find in this grove to your supermarket shelf and then on to your stomach.

Hassel: I could see it in a sports drink, I could see it in a flavored water. And I also could see it in a twist on an orange carbonated beverage.

When they find something they like, they extract its flavor molecules from the fruit on the tree. Then back in the lab, they mimic Mother Nature's molecules with chemicals.

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