Professional food taster sounds like a great job on paper, but would you be brave enough to apply your taste buds to cuisine of the animal variety?
Believe it or not, pet food manufacturers do not just leave it down to our furry friends to test out their meals. As dogs, cats and even parrots only have a limited ability to communicate their preferences, human tasters are often needed to assess and write reports on the flavour, texture and smell of products.
It may not be as unpleasant as it sounds though; some manufactures make a point of applying the same nutritional and production standards to their pet foods as they do to products intended for human consumption.
For example, the Honest Kitchen, which uses free-range ingredients in its gourmet pet food range, was the first producer to receive a ‘human grade’ rating from the American Food and Drug Administration and their CEO insists on tasting all their products personally.
How to get there?
You don’t necessarily need any particular qualifications or skills (apart from a willingness to eat dog food…), but good tasters should train their palettes over time to get a sense of the tastes and smells that dogs and cats prefer.
Employers may look for candidates with some experience in food preparation e.g. as a caterer, as this can indicate whether you have a good palette. You'll be writing reports in a lab environment so you should be analytical and capable of describing subtleties in the variations of taste and texture.
Another route into the food tasting industry is as a food technologist. For this you will need a degree in food science / nutrition or you can enter work-based training, starting out as a laboratory technician.
Food technologists develop new products, provide accurate nutritional information and assess the safety and quality of food. Tasting is only a small part of these jobs, but your career options are far more diverse as a result.
As a food technologist, your prospects are excellent. According to the Food and Drink Federation, there is currently a shortage of food technologists in the UK so job availability is high.
The National Careers Service estimates technologists can earn from £20,000 - £45,000 depending on experience. There are opportunities to move into food development management roles and you will also be equipped with the knowledge to create your own food brands.
The majority of taster jobs are part-time or short-term contracts and can be a great way for students to pick up some extra money. Food manufactures will advertise for tasters before they release new products. The money can still be competitive and there are sometimes longer-term contracts available. Green & Blacks made the news after they launched a nationwide search for the £35,000 role of Chocolate Taste Assistant to help them develop new flavourings (just in case you want to look beyond the pet food route…)
Photograph: Fraser Lewry