The odd tricks that make processed foods taste like they "should"

Flavorists are chemists who concoct magical additives to make pear ice cream, banana pudding mix, and black cherry energy bars that taste how we think fresh cherries should taste, even though what we're imagining are actually Maraschino cherries that have a distinct almond note to them. Interestingly, most flavor science starts with smell not taste. The Guardian profiles Marie Wright, the chief global flavorist at WILD Flavors, a subsidiary of massive food multinational Archer-Daniels-Midland. From The BBC:

In her current job, the act of making a flavour usually begins with an idea provided by a client company – a black truffle flavour for a salad dressing, a peach for a vodka, a meaty taste for a meatless patty. The flavourist comes up with a first draft at their desk, then puts on a white coat and hits the lab bench, mixing oils, essences, extracts, and synthetic molecules. Wright, who is known for her pear flavours, can reel off the ingredients. There's a bubblegum, almost banana-tasting molecule called isoamyl acetate, and another molecule called ethyl decadienoate, which has a strong pear taste but that can get a little acrylic[…]

"It's similar I'm sure to painting a picture. It's knowing the depth… knowing how far you can go before you go over the top and it becomes something artificial," she says. For some things, however, that artificiality is what people respond to[…]

She often makes flavours for products formulated for their nutritional profile, like energy bars and workout drinks, and when these arrive with her, they can leave something to be desired in the taste department. Bitterness from botanical extracts or unpleasant protein tastes require some clever footwork from the flavourists.

"We had one base that came in that literally made you gag. By the time we'd finished with it, I can't say it was yummy, but it was very pleasant. I like that challenge of doing things that will work against some of these offnotes," she says.

image (cropped): 4028mdk09 (CC BY-SA 3.0)