Ever stopped to appreciate the depth of flavours from your favourite chilli sauce?
Or wondered what considerations went into that jar of marmalade to give you the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness?
Well, behind every nuance and flavour – be it savoury, sweet, floral or fruity – is a whole flavour creation team to put these unique blend of flavours together.
Part of the job
Flavour technologist Jonathan Phoon is part of one such R&D team at KH Roberts, a local food flavouring manufacturing company.
Source: KH Roberts
Jonathan's job includes looking at various processes that can be adopted for the manufacturing of flavours.
He explains, “Part of my job is to understand the characteristics of the ingredients after they go through the various processes.”
These include the mixing or heating of ingredients - “It’s a bit like cooking, but in a more controlled manner,” he says, likening his workspace to a cross between a science lab and a kitchen.
By exploring these technologies and processes at the lab, he then finds solutions for how they can be adopted at the production level.
Jonathan, a food science and techonology graduate from NUS, says that his role as a flavour technologist is about using applied scientific knowledge to solve problems in food processing.
“So, while having good sensory abilities – like smell and taste – is definitely an advantage, I would say, it’s not crucial,” he explains, adding that there are other roles such as flavourists for those more gifted with their sensory abilities
“My colleagues who are flavourists need to understand the aroma profiles of ingredients. They then mix them in specific proportions to create a flavouring,” he explains.
“My role in relation to them, is to generate flavouring ingredients (extracts for example) that they need, or to convert liquid flavouring into solid forms.”
Do the taste test
His favourite flavouring experience so far?
“Instant noodles,” he chuckles. “We’ve done a lot of sweet flavours, but I personally prefer savoury flavours so this was memorable for me.”
In this case, Jonathan was involved in creating the flavouring essence that the flavourist needed. “Extracts are usually in liquid form, but we needed it in a powder form for this seasoning. That’s where I come in as well.”
Source: KH Roberts
The flavourings are then added to the food product in the application process, and this is where Jonathan and his team are then able to assess the performance of the flavours.
“Sometimes, the flavouring may smell really good, but then it doesn’t taste as good – we can only tell when it’s applied to the food and we taste it,” he says.
Forging ahead with innovation
Jobs like Jonathan’s offer a glimpse into the exciting world of food manufacturing today.
Dr. Peter KC Ong, Chief Executive Officer at KH Roberts says that the food manufacturing subsector is no longer a “sunset industry” – and that the industry has evolved, particularly over the past five years.
“There is distinct innovation vibrancy in the areas of food sustainability, alternatives, and health and wellness,” he notes.
Dr Ong adds, “Prospects are bright moving forward, especially as food manufacturers forge ahead with international market expansion, riding on ingredient and product innovations.”
The food manufacturing subsector in Singapore comprises over 940 enterprises, and employs more than 48,000 workers.
Food manufacturers have been capitalising on Singapore’s strong branding for food safety, quality and hygiene, and its strategic location, to export locally manufactured food products to overseas markets.
The Government has also been working with businesses and workers in the sub-sector to promote food innovation, R&D, internationalisation and automation.
Job opportunities in the food sector
Since April this year, some 6,700 job opportunities have been created in Singapore’s food sector.
Of these, 44 per cent are for PMET roles – such as food technologists like Jonathan.
While there are roles in this sector that do not require prior experience, Jonathan notes that his food science background has prepared him well for his current job.
“For the job, I do need basic lab skills and practices, as well as knowledge and wisdom of scientific enquiry. Basic chemical engineering and life science knowledge is good too,” he says.
On his contributions to the bigger picture in terms of food manufacturing and food security in Singapore, Jonathan is glad that his work “enables him to constantly tap on innovative processes”.
"It gives my company the capability to constantly produce high quality and innovative flavours to local and global food manufacturers around the world.”