Have you ever wondered what it takes to nail the flavors that go into canned foods?
We recently went on a tour of Bush’s Baked Bean factory in Knoxville, Tennessee, where we learned about the company’s Golden Spoon Test. This was the test the Bush Brothers would give to any new prospect coming into the company.
Each employee faced a two-hour test where they had to pinpoint the similarities and discrepancies of texture, taste, appearance, and smell.
The prize of these trials? A spoon made of solid gold.
Cue mystical overture.
I was given a crash course into the abilities to differentiate flavor profiles that Bush’s looked for in their candidates during these taste tests.
There were two types of people that would emerge from the fiery stovestops of these tests: discriminators and the affective panels.
Then, I was taken to a sensory booth that had a computer and a revolving window which was connected directly to the test kitchen.
The test began. I was given multiple cups of water, each with a slightly different flavor than the last. Some would be little more bitter, others saltier, some sweeter, and a few remained unchanged.
Sweet. Salty. Sour. Bitter. Umami.
These were the tastes I had to identify.
The differences between each ones had to be noted and inputed with the numbers marked on the sample cups into the computer. Once I was done, another round began. Each “taste test” was accompanied with a bottle of water, some oyster crackers, and a cup for me to spit in.
As I finished each batch, I would have to slide the used tray through the window where they were removed and a fresh batch of samples were given.
Once the water cup tests were finished, I graduated to tasting beans.
Like before, I was given multiple cups of beans. Each cup held about a spoonful of baked beans, with each flavor different than the last.
Not going to lie, it got tough.
I noticed some differences off the bat (some beans were spicy, some were sweet), there were times where beans tasted exactly the same and I could do nothing more than make an “educated” guess.
Finally, the results were in.
Like a nervous patient at the doctors office, I anxiously waited my results.
Turns out I was one of the many people in the world that had trouble tasting bitter notes. This meant I could only taste extremely bitter things, but the subtlest of flavors would elude me and taste like nothing.
That explained why I came across so many pairs of test flavors that tasted so alike.
Through this intense exercise, I learned exactly what it took to become a professional taster. Sure, it’s not as eye-catching of a profession as someone who eats hundreds of hot dogs or devours hot wings on camera. But there’s something noble about being the first line of defense again bland flavors and overwhelming spices. These sensory experts spends hours upon hours eating spoonfuls of beans just so we can get the best possible outcomes from our cans.
For that, I have a newfound appreciate for the men and women in this industry.
Though I didn’t win the Golden Spoon from the initial test, I was able to get my hands on one based on this rad Honey Chipotle Baked Bean Burger I whipped up in their kitchen shortly after the experience. The famished crew were more than happy to chow down on such a Foodbeast-worthy item.