Ayhan Çin makes a living by eating pastries and cookies. His job is to taste; in other words, he is a food tester. Çin is the last to taste pastry products before they are marketed to customers. If he approves, the product goes on the shelves.
Food testers are not gourmets, but they check the taste, the smell and even the appearance of food to determine whether the product will appeal to customers. They are not chemical or food engineers, either. But they test how the amount of fat and water used in the making of the product affects the outcome. Even though the items may be well prepared or well packaged, they are not marketed unless they are tasted and approved. Food companies hire taste testers to check the taste of the products such as cookies, yogurts, juices, pastries and olive oil to make sure they conform to company standards.
Çin is one of these food testers. Up until recently, he was working as a cookie tester at Ülker and training other testers. Now he does the same job at the Merhaba pastry shop. He says that a person’s sense of taste should be continuously improved to be a good tester. The second criterion is to be familiar with all the production phases and with customers’ preferences. In this way, the tester might notice something is wrong with a product.
Çin believes that only those who have a developed sense of taste can do this job. He was initially promoted to the testing department because of his keen sense of smell. Çin first noticed that he had a good sense of smell while working in the packing department. He was able to discern if the cookies he was packing were well cooked. He saved the company a lot of money by noticing when the cookies in the boxes were undercooked. Thanks to this, he was promoted to the quality control department, and he subsequently started to do taste testing. Çin become a professional tester within a decade and also began training new testers.
I attended a number of training sessions for food tasting after becoming one of 15 successful applicants in a test conducted by İstanbul University with 400 applicants. Çin says: “In the exams, a small amount of aroma is mixed in a glass of water. There is a threshold of taste. We check the ability to taste at minimum and maximum. Those who sense the taste pass the test.”
Hot soup and TV spoil taste
His friends and relatives appreciate what he is doing. “But only a few people know about this job. For this reason, it’s hard to describe what I do. So I tell them I work for a food company,” Çin says. Considering that he has a strong sense of taste, I ask him whether he is picky about food. It turns out that he is not. But he is not very fond of desserts despite the fact that he tastes pastries and cookies all day. “My daughter welcomes me back home every evening. She hugs me and most of the time she says, ‘Daddy you smell of cookies,’” he recounts fondly.
“We never turn the TV on during dinner at home because you will never get the full taste of what you have in front of the TV. You cannot sense the taste. Cigarettes and alcohol also spoil the sense of taste. Heat also affects the taste sensors in tongue. You cannot taste anything after having hot soup. The appearance and smell of the food also affects the taste. You should see what you eat and sense its smell,” he states.
“There might be some exceptions, but a person’s sense of taste starts to decline after the age of 50. For this reason, this job can be done until you’re 50. Motivation and morale also affect the sense of taste. When we are angry or stressed out, we sense tastes differently. For this reason, the tasters should be calm when they sample food. Tasting departments should be comfortable and relaxing,” Çin states.