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Flavorists on 60 Minutes 11/27/2011

Morley Safer was the correspondent for a segment on Givaudan, a Swiss multinational corporation that creates flavors. One of their flavor scientists showed him her vials of various flavorings, some 150 types of orange and over 400 distinct riffs on raspberry. They explained that "natural flavor" can include some of the actual food item whose flavor is being reproduced, along with lots of other compounds, including one from "the rear end of a beaver". I guess we all know that animal musks are used in perfumes but it never occurred to me that they were also in food. The scientists acknowledged that their goal is to create flavors people want to keep on eating, but rejected defining that as addiction, or anything else with a negative connotation. It reminded me of the line from a Tom Lehrer song: "Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department, says Wernher von Braun". As if this weren't troubling enough, they had an event at which cutting edge chefs made their creative signature dishes so Givaudan could study the flavors with the goal of duplicating them. I would have hoped chefs would be more responsible than to willingly participate in furthering the appeal and consumption of faux food,

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  1. They did in fact use the word "addictive" as a goal. Better eating through chemistry? Include me out.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      It wouldn't be so bad if the foods they are trying to make addictive were not unhealthy to begin with. More power to them if they were hooking us on broccoli and skim milk rather than chips and soda.

      1. re: Veggo

        Morley's the one that introduced the word and while sensationalistic it's inaccurate. They're no more "addictive" than Lay's "bet you can't eat just one" is. The representative described it more effectively later in the segment that they were seeking to create a memorable experience that would induce the customer to think of them when they went to the store. It's the same quality that makes you buy a certain variety of apple that you enjoyed previously over the numerous others that are available at the store.

      2. I was so sickened after I watched this piece. And, it made me go check the ingredients of some of the organic foods I serve our 3 yr old. Guess what..."natural flavors". Now, I know. Yikes!! I did wonder though, if indeed these flavors are created to be "addictive", why are some people more prone to being addicted than others?

        1. I had a mixed reaction to this piece. First, thought it was pretty good, because they can create flavors for people who can't eat certain "real" food. In late June, I had a gallbladder attack and needed to do no fat. So, I had to check everything on a package. The thing I missed the most was cheese and Quaker Rice Cakes has a fat free Cheddar flavor that is pretty darn good. It doesn't mean that Givadon is the flavor maker, but those rice cakes saved my cravings.
          And the part where the cheaper whisky/scotch got a flavor enhancement seems like a good thing. Cheaper brands of liquor can be a good thing, if it tastes good.
          But, then I wondered why Givaudon wouldn't name the products that have flavor enhancement. That seems underhanded to me, or at least strange.
          They did address the flavor vs. obesity in America and it brings me to fast food chains. Do they have enhancement to flavor fries, burgers, etc., with fat ladened products? Most likely. Addictive? Not sure, but do know that if a $5.00 dollar burger meal at a chain tastes really good, while being chemically enhanced, then the public should be aware.

          3 Replies
          1. re: mcel215

            "But, then I wondered why Givaudon wouldn't name the products that have flavor enhancement. That seems underhanded to me, or at least strange."

            Because the information is not theirs to share. Their clients undoubtedly demand confidentiality.

            As far as the hysteria about flavorings goes, its much ado about nothing.

            1. re: ferret

              "As far as the hysteria about flavorings goes, its much ado about nothing".

              Good to know, hope your right. :)

          2. Not sure what you found so troubling about this piece.

            Nothing noteworthy, much less newsworthy, about this story.

            11 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              ipse, CBS has to fill the Andy Rooney time slot with equally scintillating material....

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Really? You didn't fiond it interesting they use essence of beaver butt as a flavoring?


                1. re: JuniorBalloon

                  And??? By the time it gets down to the extract it's a chemical compound that contributes a specific flavor profile. It's no different than peat and charred barrels contributing to the flavor profile of scotch or veal stock contributing a flavor profile to sauces. People conduct chemical experiments in their own kitchens daily without realizing it but somehow if it's sourced from ingredients they purchased it's "wholesome" - regardless of the chemical changes that it has undergone. Get it out of a lab and it's suddenly "Soylent Green."

                  1. re: ferret

                    I wasn't really commenting on whether it's safe and wholesome, just that it was at least newsworthy... to me anyways. Though, within reason, I subscribe to the Michael Pollan tenet that if Grandma wouldn't recognize it as food it's probably better not eaten.


                    1. re: JuniorBalloon

                      Pollan may be pithy but that doesn't make him the final word. Propaganda flows both ways.

                      1. re: ferret

                        Indeed. I pick and choose from a lot of sources.


                        1. re: JuniorBalloon

                          "if Grandma wouldn't recognize it as food it's probably better not eaten."

                          Depends on your Grandma.

                      2. re: JuniorBalloon

                        It's a chemical compound. It's not as if they're saying 'here, lick this raw beaver.' Cooking uses all sorts of gross and disgusting ingredients and transforms them into something (hopefully) delicous.

                        1. re: JuniorBalloon

                          Really? You didn't fiond it interesting they use essence of beaver butt as a flavoring?


                          I just assumed it was sort of common knowledge.

                          As an aside, if you found that 60 Minutes segment troubling, read this article: http://vitals.msnbc.msn.com/_news/201...

                      3. I thought the piece was fascinationg.

                        1. It was avery interesting piece. I doubt that most people give flavorings too much of a passing thought. Interesting too that one company seems to control so much.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Withnail42

                            They're the largest (and not by much) but far from the only game in town:


                            There used to be an IFF not far from where I live and you could always tell what was going on inside as you were driving by.

                            And Calfornia-based Sovereign (a relatively small player) is the company that makes the funky Jones Soda savory holiday flavored sodas, so the little guys are still in the running.

                          2. I found it more fascinating than troubling. I got into the aspect of tasting. These people were tasters which I identify with. Being able to isolate the chemical and reproduce it or replace it with a similar one and being able to match a flavor was just fascinating.

                            You don't want to eat it, don't eat processed foods because this science has been around a long time and you most likely have already eaten your share

                            There are positive applications as well as negative. I found it interesting about how they tailor the finish of a flavor to keep it short so you want to go back for more, quickly.

                            1. grey, i don't know about your last statement about the chefs and 'faux food', but i can identify with chefs who create a unique flavor and are proud/excited to see it spread to a wider sphere .

                              besides that, i love your referencing the delightful Tom Lehrer, Mr. Cambridge himself!

                              and thanks so much for noticing my thread and linking to this thread which i missed in 2011!