How Many Ways Can You Make Citrus Flavors? Literally Thousands

Students get a taste of Givaudan’s new collection of exotic citrus flavors, including many sampled at UC Riverside’s Citrus Variety Collection

UCR students get a chance to smell scents based on citrus at a taste test event offered by Givaduan, a Swiss-based flavoring company.Jeanette Marantos

By Jeanette Marantos

An orange is an orange is an orange…, right? Well not when it comes to developing orange and other citrus flavors, making UC Riverside’s collection of more than 1,000 citrus varieties a godsend for Givaudan, the world’s largest maker of flavors and fragrances for consumer products.

Finding just the right taste is a complex process for food producers, and can vary by countries and even regions within a country, depending on the local palates, Dawn Streich, Givaudan’s global product manager in citrus flavors, told a group of UCR students Wednesday. So an orange drink produced for Southern California markets, for instance, may have a slightly different taste than drinks produced for consumers in France or New Dehli, or even New England, because of local preferences.

That’s why a plethora of choices in the natural world is such a boon to flavor developers, especially in citrus. “Citrus is the most culturally diverse and versatile flavor in the world. It’s almost universally liked, which is amazing,” Streich said.

“Back in 2006, when we were looking to bring new innovations to our citrus program, we looked at a lot of places, but we decided UC Riverside really had the best citrus collection.  We always thought the Valencia orange was the gold standard for orange flavor, but once we started comparing the different oranges (at UCR), we found an amazing variety of flavors we can create with the tools available to us.”

Givaudan’s “flavorists — researchers who sample, breakdown and mix natural flavors to create new flavors and fragrances—loved UCR’s 100-year-old Citrus Variety Collection because they could easily compare a multitude of flavors right in the field during their annual citrus “TasteTreks,” Streich said.

Then in 2008, Givaudan realized that UCR’s museum-like collection of two trees of each type was also an excellent place to bring its global customers for a little one-stop shopping for the perfect citrus flavor.

The company often encounters language barriers when its customers are trying to convey the exact flavor attributes they wanted to achieve, Streich said. “But when we bring them into the grove, it really allows us to work closely with them to see what flavors appeal to them, and what type will work well in their products.”

With $4.4 billion in sales, Givaudan has the largest market share in the world for selling flavors and fragrances — about 25 percent of the market — Streich said. The company is based in Switzerland, with 9,500 employees and 34 production sites around the world, including the U.S. headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Since it started working with UCR, Givaudan has expanded its citrus “TasteTreks” to groves in Brazil and Italy for customers who can’t easily travel to the U.S., and in India, China, Japan and Argentina for its researchers, Streich said.

But the company’s relationship with UCR is still going strong 10 years after Streich and flavorist Geoff Marshall-Hill made their first visit, and became even stronger last fall, when the company contributed $1 million to create the Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection Endowed Chair, to preserve the unique citrus grove into perpetuity.

Flavorings based on the Valentine variety, developed at UC Riverside. Jeanette Marantos

Flavorings based on the Valentine variety, developed at UC Riverside.
Jeanette Marantos

Streich and Marshall-Hill didn’t discuss specific clients or products during their presentation, but suffice it to say that they work with major brands that are common in stores.

And we’re not just talking a few flavors here. The company’s 200 flavorists literally develop thousands of new flavors every year, Marshall-Hill said, and then winnow out their favorites to give customers some new options. This year’s flavor collection includes Ponkan Mandarin and Meiwa Kumquat from China, Dehli Lime from India, Florentino Lemon and  Castagnan Bergamot from Italy, Sanguinelli Blood Orange from Spain and two developed through UCR research — Oroblanco Pummelo Grapefruit hybrid and Valentine, a three way hybrid between a pummelo, mandarin and a blood orange. It has a beautiful, heart-shaped fruit with a rosy flesh and delicate citrus flavor.

Customers aren’t limited to those new flavors  — “I have 14,500 ingredients I can work with to make a flavor,” Marshall-Hill said. The idea is to give customers an idea about how diverse their options can be.

Students at Wednesday’s presentation got to sniff test strips with various components of orange flavors, which, when held together, smelled like walking through an orange grove, one student remarked. And at the end, they got to sample this year’s collection of new flavors mixed with a little water, sugar and citric acid.

Amber Cartwright of Givaduan and Tracy Kahn with the box of flavors. Jeanette Marantos

Amber Cartwright of Givaudan and Tracy Kahn with the box of flavors.
Jeanette Marantos

The Givaudan presenters also emphasized that the company is looking for students with a science background to fill positions throughout the organization, even in marketing. The company has recently started training new flavorists, but it takes seven years to become a full-fledged flavorist, Streich said, and you can’t get the background at a university.

“Every flavor company does its own training, because there are so many captive ingredients and technology,” Marshall-Hill said. “Givaudan has 200 flavorists, about 50 percent of the flavorists in the world. If we had feathers and fur, we would be considered an endangered species.”

After the talk, collection curator, Tracy Kahn, who holds the Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection Endowed Chair, said she hoped the presentation gave science students some new ideas about possible job paths. “Givaudan hires a lot of students out of college,” she said. “They know about becoming researchers and doctors, but they don’t often know about jobs like this.”

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