Givaudan, Naarden & Zurich – Flavour as Cultural Material

 

Givaudan Flavours & Fragrances, Naarden, the Netherlands & Zürich, Switzerland

Point of Contact: Harry Renes, Chief Research Flavourist
Sponsor Visit & Lecture: Ryan Frederick Bromley, Canada & Poland

Overview

I have been very proud to be sponsored by Givaudan. As the world's foremost manufacturers of flavours and fragrances Givaudan function as a bridge between nature's bounty and the cultural cosmos of consumer products. Additionally, as a notoriously secretive industries, to be among the first wave of outsiders to engage with flavour and fragrance research has been a distinct privilege.

Givaudan provides a product that is still in its infancy; however, I believe that the cultural significance of the products that Givaudan are creating will grow in influence and importance so as to become a pillar of human ingenuity and development, much like music/sound and visual images have done. Until relatively recently the planet only possessed the flavours found in nature; while the sounds of nature were replicated in instruments, and the colours of nature could be reproduced in a palette of pigment, the scents and flavours of the world were bound to their natural forms. That is to say that to experience the flavour of an apple, one must eat an apple; where a person might experience a sunset by viewing a painting or the video recording of a sunset. The act of cataloging the flavours and fragrances of the world by their exact chemical properties, and then using this chemical information as a springboard into new technologies and flavour compositions, is a beautiful undertaking of no small significance. Givaudan is constantly working to perfect the exactness of their natural samples, however, it is safe to say that for the first time in the history we have a sophisticated palate of flavours which have been created by man; our own flavour fantasies without natural counterparts. As the creation of instruments led to music, and the creation of a palate of pigments let to painting, I believe that the creation of a library of flavours will lead to a human expression that communicates culture in a distinctive way through this medium. It is hard to imagine what the characteristics of such an expression will take, however, I believe that in the future we will munipulate flavour as richly as visual art does colour and music does sound.

It is from the vantage-point of this conviction that I enter into the conversation of contemporary art that engages with the chemical sense. Givaudan became an unwitting partner in this assertion when they decided to sponsor my research; however, I believe that they are the bolder party. When there was only a vague idea of harnessing the power of flavour, Givaudan launched exploratory treks throughout the world to decode the alchemy of nature and transcribe the chemical notation of our planets bounty of flavours. They will be the first to tell you that this work has only begun, and yet they have made tremendous gains in the space of only a few decades.

Throughout my research I have approached this palette of flavours as both an ark that preserves the compositions of nature's bounty as well as an evocative tool that unlocks consequential cultural associations, as well as the human emotions that are associated with them. My intention has always been to look beyond the simplicity of hedonic (like/dislike) response to flavours in order to begin to understand the importance that flavours possess in our culture and the power that they wield over us.                    

Research Description

My exchanges with Givaudan have been relatively few, however, on three occasions I have been given the opportunity to engage with their work - twice in Naarden and once in Zürich. In Naarden, I was invited by Harry Renes to present my research and to discuss ways in which we might cooperate together towards achieving the aims of Givaudan. After speaking with several of their flavourists and touring their facilities I began to understand the distinctive culture within which they operate. My lecture with Givaudan was warmly received and the Q&A session highlighted the creative mindset of their flavourists and their passion for communicating the significance of their work. In Zürich I was invited into their production facilities, walked through Givaudan's processes of development and shown how products are 'scaled up' in the creation of their consumer goods. Additionally, I learned about Givaudan's outreach programmes and collaborations with top chefs and restaurants throughout the world.  

Findings

Givaudan has done an amazing job of collecting, analysing, cataloguing, and applying flavour within the food industry, but I feel that there remains unbounded scope for them to introduce these flavours and processes in a richer cultural capacity. While the framing of this conversation is important (as people are cynical about additives in food), the role of cultural ambassador for flavours and for its importance as an emotional marker that binds our memories to ideas and places, remains largely unexplored. For me, this is a missed opportunity that would elevate Givaudan from flavour manufacturers to pioneers of the landscape of flavour in society.