The Flavour Mystery: Explained Part 2

15 December 2016

Continuing our blog on the making of Burts flavours with a trip to the …

Seasoning house

We’ve had the new product ideas, some feedback on their potential and finally we’ve drawn up a flavour brief. So what’s next?

Let’s head to the seasoning house, a specialist, off-site facility where all of Burts’ flavourings are made. This is where the food technologists combine their love of ingredients and flavours with the technical manufacturing know-how needed to make a product prototype. Of course, if you want a top quality product, you have to source the best ingredients. At Burts, we place great value in buying local wherever we can, and where we can’t, we make sure we understand exactly where it came from and how it was made – knowing the provenance as we call it in the trade. For example, the chillies we use in the Thai Sweet Chilli and Firecracker Lobster flavours are sourced from South Devon Chilli Farm near Salcombe.

Once you’ve sourced the raw ingredients, the next step is to ensure they’re turned into a form which is suitable for crisps. Whether they start as meat, vegetable, spice or oil, by the end, they need to become a dry, long-lasting powdered blend that can be applied to potato or lentils. How we do that depends on the type of ingredients used and the complexity of the flavourings. Take a relatively simple flavour like … salt and vinegar. It’s got two core ingredients, right? Salt and well, vinegar.

But there’s one obvious problem. Vinegar is a liquid and unless you like your crisps soggy, the culinary boffins have to find a way of transforming it into a dry powder. How do they do it?

Warning: trade secret approaching!

Here’s the science bit! We use a little technique called ‘Spray Drying’. Vinegar is pumped through a nozzle under pressure atomizing it into a fine mist, in much the same way an aerosol works. That mist is sprayed onto a neutral-tasting corn, rice or potato starch, typically maltodextrin, which absorbs all the flavour of the vinegar. Dry heated, the solid is easily ground into a powder and voila, you have your seasoning.

Is it always that easy?

No. Developing meat-based flavourings are a whole different ball game. Take our Devon Roast Beef flavour. Having sourced a fine cut of Devon fore-rib, we can’t just cook it, grate it and sprinkle it on our potato chips. In that state, the meat would deteriorate in the packet and although it maybe be counter-intuitive, the fact is, most of the flavour is held not in the meat but in the fat. Now fat is also prone to deteriorate so we have to create an extract. Essentially, we cook the beef, take the fat, blend it with oil, then remove the fat and you are left with a beef-infused oil that captures the best of the flavour in a form that is stable over a long period. A challenging process, honed over many years.

Our more complex flavours – for example Levi Roots Caribbean Coconut Curry require the mixing of the pre-prepared flavourings in a giant cooking pot starting with the liquids, then the solids (like salt) and powdered extracts according to very precise measurements determined by our seasoning chefs to ensure each batch is identical. Finally, the mixture is pushed through fine sieves to ensure the seasoning is exactly the right grain size for application to  our fresh crunchy crisps.

Back to the Burts factory

The potatoes or lentils have been sliced, hand-cooked and dried with great care and now it’s time to add the seasoning. At any one moment, we store up to 4 tonnes of each blended flavour in the factory, enough to make 330,000 x 150g sharing packs. The seasoning is placed in a giant rotating drum which uses scales to measure the amount of crisps moving within it and sprinkles the mixture to the exact requirements of our Quality Control department. At Burts, we can produce 5 flavours of crisps at the same time, but we are very careful to make sure that the flavours do not mix (after all who wants lobster with their cheese?).

Testing – those lucky crisp tasters

Cory Dixon Plymouth RaidersOf course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We’ve made a batch with a brand new flavour but do they hit the spot? Time for the taste-bud test. Our trained tasters crunch, munch, smell, lick, and look to see whether the crisps taste as intended. Do they need more punch? Is the lemon zing coming through too strongly? Does the chorizo taste meaty enough? Then we trial them on select customers. What’s the reaction? Is the feedback telling us we need to tweak the recipe? If so, back to the seasoning house with a new brief. If not, maybe it’s time for a bigger trial. And so it goes until the day we hit the stores and a new flavour is officially born.

The secret’s out

Well mostly. And that’s how we at Burts put the flavour on our crisps. Or should it be IN our crisps? Because there’s one extra fascinating fact about flavour that we should make clear. We don’t just experience flavor with our mouths. Our taste buds can only determine whether something is sweet, salty, sour, bitter and potentially umami (google it!). Beyond that, they are a bit useless. 75-95% of our flavour experience comes from our nose through smell. Another percentage comes though our ears, with the volume of the crunch impacting our perception of freshness. And even the design of the packaging helps to shape our expectations of flavor, in much the same way your brain can make you almost taste a delicious food just by thinking about it. Incredible isn’t it? Flavour is not just something you put on your crisps. Rather it’s a whole sensory experience written via your brain in from information in on and even surrounding your packet.

Which means that before we even get on to manufacturing flavourings, Burts pays a lot of attention to satisfying the other senses – from choosing the right varieties of potato to optimising the cooking process to deliver the perfect crunch; finding ingredients with a strong smell signature and designing our packaging to speak to your brain’s subconscious desires.

All of which delivers a crisp that has no rival. So the next time you sit down with a packet of Burts, spare a moment to think about all the thought, and all the love that has gone into bringing to you the perfect potato chip (or lentil!).


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