Matthew, an odd-jobbing freelance artist, took a job as a frozen-food taster ("trained sensory panelist"), spending long days stuffing fried food in his mouth and rating it on 50-100 attributes, swirling mashed potatoes around his mouth, getting mouth-blisters from all the salt. If you've ever wondered how frozen food manufacturers decide how much cardboard taste is too much, here is your answer:
Matthew: I'd come home with huge blisters in my mouth from the salt. Yeah, fried food doesn't have the same appeal anymore. And the other amazing thing is seeing the whole world behind literally every product we consume. Every aspect of the foods, taste, appearance, texture, is so insanely focus grouped and tested. Every major food company has a similar testing process.
Mike: Does this mean you were eating many different versions of the same curly fry?
Matthew: Yes, there'd be slight variations in spices, in cooking time, in the kind of potato. We'd test them at different intervals to see how the taste changed once they were taken out of the fryer, or how micro-waving them would affect their texture. One aromatic that was fun to pick out was "cardboard"—an actual aromatic on the ballot—and to compare we had cups of water with brown paper towels in them.
Matthew: Oh, and another weird thing I learned: To cut corners with cheese products companies sometimes use the acids from cheese production instead of the more expensive cheese products, and these acids are basically bile from different animals (a food scientist might have a more nuanced view). So sometimes we'd be spitting out these inexpensive cheese products all day, and your mouth would just be full of this vomit bile taste.
What It's Like to Work as a Professional Frozen Food Taster [Mike Dang/The Billfold]
(via Super Punch)
(Image: Nasi Bami Dutch frozen, CC-BY-SA, Nasischijf/Wikimedia Commons)