Nov 242009

New Yorker 2009_11_23_p139

I read shit most of you wouldn’t go near in a hazmat suit.  Don’t ask me why.  But every now and then I come across something that makes it worthwhile, and I’m here to share it with you.

Case in point:  The Nov 23 issue of The New Yorker includes an article by one Raffi Khatchadourian called “The Taste Makers.”  And he means that literally.  It focuses on a Swiss company (with at least one factory in the U.S.) called Givaudan — the largest manufacturer of flavors and fragrances in the world.  There’s so much fascinating shit in this article, I had a nut-busting time figuring out where to draw the line in sharing it with you.  But in this multi-part post, I’ll give you the highlights and explain what (in my twisted way of thinking) this has to do with extreme metal.

Givaudan generates nearly $4 billion of revenue per year, more than half of which comes from creating and selling flavor additives to manufacturers of processed food and drink (for example, Coke and Snapple).  The business is highly secretive, in large part because the manufacturers don’t want the livestock you to know that outside labs supply them with flavors for their products.

Part of what Givaudan does is to break natural flavors down into their molecular components and then mix and match them to create new flavors that can then become the foundation of new beverages or foods.  (Wait til you hear about Red Bull and almost all other “energy” drinks in Part 2 of this post!)

Givaudan also creates artificial flavors that closely resemble the flavors of natural products such as lemons. Or vanilla.  Did you know that vanilla is the world’s most popular flavor and that thousands of tons of vanillin (the chemical compound that’s the primary extract from the vanilla bean) are synthesized from industrial petrochemicals and waste from the production of wood pulp?  Did you know, as Japanese scientists have shown, that it’s even possible to extract vanillin from cow dung? Now you do.  You’re welcome.

As Mr. Khatchadourian writes:

Givaudan’s many scientists often refer to food as “the application,” as if it were composed of malleable lines of computer code; from this perspective, adding a flavor is as simple as updating software. . . .  “Most of the food-and-beverage companies have become marketing-and-distribution companies,” a flavor company executive told me, only somewhat in jest.  I understood what he meant when, in one of his laboratories, I saw a number of his colleagues working on a tasteless “slurry,” consisting largely of starch, oil, and salt, which a client was hoping to transform into a marketable product.  The client had asked the flavor company’s in-house chef to develop various dips, such as guacamole, using fresh ingredients; after settling on the best recipes, the company’s flavorists mimicked them chemically, with an eye toward injecting the flavor compounds into the slurry in the most stable and cost-effective way.

Yum yum.  Dig in!

More of this fascinating shit tomorrow, and then we can talk about why – in addition to being bat-shit scary — it’s a good metaphor for a lot of “manufactured” metal music (among other things).

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