27 Flavor Engineering III: Language (feat. Sousi Kalaiji)

Sousi Kalaiji is a flavorist (chemical engineer) with Ingredion based in the UAE who is currently working on new applications for starches.

Black Almanac: We’re interested in the cultural aspect of flavor. A strawberry in the US is quite close to a strawberry grown anywhere else – though terroir and other things may have an impact. But strawberry flavor in the United States is completely different to the strawberry flavour in the European Union. How do flavorists understand these differences and how might they be used to identify the flavor molecules in products from competitors?

Sousi Kalaiji: When I was training new recruits I used to gives examples: in this country they love this direction and this country they love this direction. Ultimately, the first thing you need to do is learn the language. So for example, when I say “floral” the person in front of me should understand what I mean by it. When I say “citrusy” or “wooden” it’s the same. How can they make sure that each panellist knows what their colleagues mean? First they take all these panellists and train them. They take the chemicals, make a solution for everybody to taste and then they say okay: “This is floral.” After training them, they put the market products in front of them. If the panelists report the presence of “floral” we know what is inside.

BA: So there is a language exclusive to this small guild.

SK: This is why flavorists are so well paid. It’s huge.