Name: Huong Phan
Title: R&D Director, Mosaic Flavors
Location: Chino, California, USA
Perfumer & Flavorist+ [P&F+]: What led you to the flavor industry?
Huong Phan [HP]: I started my career as a chemist before entering the flavor industry over 40 years ago. My entire life, I was interested in using chemicals to create a variety of flower scents and develop/collect perfumes. This made it very easy to segue into the food and fragrance industry, which I have enjoyed so very much. I really believe that I was born to do this work and can’t imagine doing anything else.
P&F+: What applications do you primarily formulate for? Do you have a favorite?
HP: Our team works on formulas across all food and beverage applications. It is energizing to receive a new request from a customer that expands your thinking and pushes your scientific mind to the limit.
I personally focus most of my efforts on product formulations within the beverage and dairy categories. I’m not sure exactly why, but these are two categories that I enjoy putting my mind to work on creating new flavors with a variety of functionality requirements.
Over the entirety of my career, I have developed thousands of different flavors that have gone into a countless number of products. But personally, I don’t think anything can be better than the taste of a classic vanilla.
P&F+: Advice for people coming into the flavor field.
HP: I have had the pleasure of working with many new and young scientists eager to get into the flavor industry. I always work with them to understand that this industry requires a lot of creativity, and it is best suited to those who enjoy a unique mix of science and art. While a significant amount of science is involved, creating a flavor is an art!
As cliché as it may sound, a flavor chemist must be able to innovate and think “outside of the box.” There are hundreds of different formulations for a strawberry flavor that can be easily replicated. However, our profession requires us to make something that is instantly recognizable, such as strawberry, yet still gives our customers’ products a distinct flavor profile and at a price point that they, and the consumer, will find acceptable. At its core, that is what a flavor chemist is all about.
P&F+: How has the job of a flavorist changed during your career?
HP: I have been in the industry for over 40 years and while the core skills needed to create flavors are still the same, the ways in which we work have changed dramatically. Technology in the laboratory is definitely one of the biggest changes. I laugh sometimes as I think about hand-written formulas stored in filing cabinets on note cards. The speed with which we are able to move from concept to formula is truly remarkable.
Consumer savvy is probably one of the other big changes that I have seen. As consumers look for more natural and organic items or review labels for certain ingredients (or lack thereof), we’ve had to refine our skills to match the marketplace’s direction. I’m glad that our company focuses on the natural and organic flavors market. It gives me a purpose each day to enter our flavor laboratory and develop flavors that will be effective for our customers’ products and accepted by the consumer.
P&F+: What is the best part of your job?
HP: I believe that it all starts with the fact that I am a person who enjoys creating. I like to cook and create new food combinations. I like to garden and grow my own vegetables and create new sprouts. I have been extremely fortunate to have found a profession that allows me to create something new every day.
I am thankful to be part of a team that works diligently to develop new flavors that millions of people around the world will be consuming. It is so very rewarding to walk down many grocery store aisles and see the results of our collective work on the shelves.
Visit the Perfumer & Flavorist+ December 2023 issue to see the profile in print.