She tastes and tinkers with flavours of food
Creating a new flavour is a trial-and-error process that can take months
With her white lab coat and spotless surroundings, Miss Cai Lixin seems more at home in a chemistry laboratory than a hot, noisy kitchen.
But the 35-year-old's career choice puts her closer to food than you'd expect.
Miss Cai is a flavourist.
She told The New Paper: "I create flavours that improve the aroma and taste of food. I feel satisfied when consumers enjoy eating the food that I helped create flavours for."
Her interest in the flavour industry started from Home Economics classes in secondary school, which inspired her to pursue a career related to food.
Miss Cai acknowledged that her sense of taste has improved with training during her 14 years with KH Roberts, a creator of quality food ingredients.
A day at work for Miss Cai is made up mostly of trial-and-error flavour tests - it may take up to 80 trials to get the right flavour.
Her job involves placing different aroma compounds into a desired flavour profile - much like a fantasy wizard mixing ingredients to create a potion, or as Miss Cai describes it, combining smaller Lego pieces into a big block.
It is a long process, and the final product involves coordination among flavourists, application technologists and sales team members.
The longest project Miss Cai has worked on took six months.
Being a flavourist is definitely not a piece of cake, and she has had to taste and smell flavours that she dislikes.
Once, Miss Cai had to work on a cheese flavour although she is personally not a big fan of cheese.
She also has to predict customers' preferences when coming up with a desired flavour profile. This requires an immense amount of time, experience and personal flair as a flavourist.
One would expect her heightened olfactory senses to cause disruption to her everyday life.
But Miss Cai actually began to appreciate and enjoy eating a wider variety of food as she has an increased awareness of the flavours of her meals.
She does not wear perfume as she dislikes it and it interferes with her work.
One memorable project Miss Cai recalls working on was to create a sweet potato flavour.
To properly capture the taste, she had to taste different variations of cooked sweet potatoes.
She then modified the flavour and tweaked it to be more appealing, such as sweetening it and making it honey-like.
When asked about what motivates her, Miss Cai said: "The world of flavours is always changing. There are many new flavours to constantly explore and learn from."
Secrets of the trade
- It would be great if you love eating and have a passion for food.
- You need to have enough patience to survive the lengthy apprenticeship.
- You should have a sense of adventure and be willing to try different flavours.
- A good palate is a bonus, but anyone with a normal sense of taste and smell is qualified to be a flavourist as long as he or she is willing to consistently work towards finding the best flavour for a product.