I've got the taste buds of a toddler
Anyone who has tried to get a baby to eat something strongly-flavoured, like an onion or a gherkin, will know toddlers have super-sensitive taste buds compared to the average adult.
So how do the chefs at a West Country baby food factory make sure the jars of food they produce are tasty but not too strong or overpowering for baby taste buds?
Step forward Beth Anderson, a 24-year-old who has ‘trained’ her palette to taste food like a ten-month-old baby, and has probably the most important role in the factory – that of baby food taster.
So sensitive are her tastebuds that bosses at Cow & Gate’s baby food plant in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, are in talks with their insurance company to protect them – just like the record company which insured J-Lo’s derriere or the model agency which protected Heidi Klum’s legs.
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She samples around 500 mouthfuls of meals a year and tries everything from fruity apple puree to creamy parsnip and potato. And while us adults have such battered taste buds that baby food just tastes bland to us, Beth can pick out and savour each part of a meal, and warn when things get a little too flavoursome.
For the past two years she has taken on the role, and by cutting out the strong stuff that blitzes our taste buds, like coffee and curry, as well as strong smells like perfume, she has developed the tastebuds of a ten-month-old.
“I love my job tasting for Cow & Gate,” she said. “It is sometimes easy to forget that as adults we can grow used to food which we’ve added salt, sugar or other flavours to.
“My sensory training to re-educate the way I taste foods is vitally important in guaranteeing our babies enjoy their food right from their first mouthfuls and hopefully that means there aren’t any tantrums at teatime,” she added.
A Cow & Gate spokesman said Beth’s main role was making sure the food wasn’t too overpowering for sensitive tongues, as well as making sure each ingredient can be tasted.
He said: “It is key Beth notices any tastes that would be too overpowering for teeny tongues,” he said. “Although tomatoes are very nutritious and have a lot of flavour, they can sometimes taste too acidic for babies and Beth’s job helps to recognise how much is too much for little mouths when it comes to ingredients like these. In order to protect her taste buds prior to a tasting session Beth has to avoid any strong tastes or smells, such as coffee and perfume, and drinks plenty of water throughout the day to keep her palette cleansed.”
Now, with the highly-tuned taste buds of a baby, Beth is finding her tastes at her own tea time have changed.
“The job also comes with its benefits to my personal life too,” she said. “I used to hate the taste of peas but, after numerous tests for a Cow & Gate pea purée I now add them to meals in my personal diet and really enjoy eating them!”