The technology behind food
Have you ever wondered what a Food Technologist was? Someone with sufficient knowledge to master industrial food processing, nutritional trends and biology, and combines them with an acute sense of taste. Bernard Barlet is one of these jack-of-all-trades who works on vanilla flavors at Solvay’s GBU Aroma Performance, and was kind enough to explain his job.
What does a Food Technologist do exactly?
My role is to understand the production processes behind a type of food, such as a biscuit, an ice cream or a drink (was it heated, cooled, emulsified...?) and experiment with our vanillin formulations to see how they react when added to the food matrices. The objective is to find out how their taste is modified through sensory and physiological treatments, which in turn can allow us to offer the best solution to our customers.
So your job is quite removed from the end consumer…
When you think of it, each of us is an end consumer, and that has lead us all at Aroma Performance to become more aware of our end consumers’ experience with our formulations over the last four or five years. We no longer limit ourselves to creating a molecule or producing a chemical formula for the market. And of course, consumers’ concerns are crucial to manufacturers, and they transfer that vital information to us. By knowing better what end consumers want, we can be proactive with our industrial clients.
What innovations does Solvay offer in the food industry?
Well, we answer several trends in consumer demands, from food safety to better nutrition and and more importantly naturalness. For example, thanks to our aromatic compositions, we can help reformulate products with limited added sugar. Consumers are also increasingly turning to more balanced diets by integrating alternative proteins, mostly from vegetables. This can take the form of powder premixes for which we have developed a unique know-how.
But what does that have to do with vanilla flavors?
Let’s take an example: to extract the protein from a chickpea, you have to fragment the legume and then separate its protein into subcategories. Some are interesting for their emulsifying or texturing properties, others contain amino acids but also give food a bad taste, mostly because of bitterness. That’s where we come in, offering flavor formulas that bring real functional solutions. As you can see, we are a long way away from making vanilla sugar!
In Solvay’s world of chemistry, what is the added value of a biochemist or Food Technologist?
Bringing us in is a sign of Solvay’s open-mindedness, because our skills are quite removed from chemistry. But there is a real complementarity; there are times when we speak different languages and have different points of view, but in the end we’re all here for the end consumer. We’re not just lab geeks who come up formulations and then just throw them on the market; we’re fully aware of the way consumers will use the products and want to go as far as possible in our understanding of the market. That’s what I find is the most interesting aspect of my job.