ancient food

April 2, 2018

By FEMA Staff

Spices and flavors have been used for thousands of years all over the world, beginning when people used simple herbs or spices to flavor their food.  Today, the flavor industry is comprised of hundreds of companies all over the world.

How did the flavor industry grow into the complex and in-demand industry it is today?

Flavors were not always created and developed by flavorists for consumer satisfaction. Spices, herbs and flavors were used throughout history by numerous cultures for various reasons.

In prehistoric times, herbs and spices were used to enhance the flavor of food. In the Middle Ages, flavors and spices were used to preserve meats prior to the use of refrigeration. Early Egyptians are known for flavoring food with dill, cumin, marjoram, coriander, sesame, thyme and even cinnamon. They also used honey as a sweetening agent. People in Europe and the Middle East discovered how to distill and extract essential oils and resins. Even in medieval times, monks captured these essences and used them to flavor food.

Regardless of the use for spice, the flavor and spice industry has always been driven by demand. The quest for spice and flavors was one of the earliest drivers of globalization. As one of the first globally traded products, spices were extremely expensive worldwide. From the beginning, the flavor industry was integrally connected to the larger food industry in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and now in the United States, specifically in the state of New Jersey where many flavor companies reside.

How did so many flavor companies settle in New Jersey?

Hundreds of years ago, spices and flavors were mostly traded through the Dutch trading companies, which delivered to ports in New York City. As the landing place for this highly desired product, businesses flocked to the Big Apple.

While New York is a large city, there is only so much room for businesses to prosper. As the city grew more crowded and increasingly expensive, businesses moved to the other side of the Hudson River. That is how the flavor industry settled in New Jersey.

Major flavor companies from all over the world maintain their facilities there and Rutgers University is one of the premier training institutions for top flavorists. Even Switzerland-based Givaudan, the world’s largest flavor company, has facilities in two separate New Jersey locations. Today, the Garden State may as well be called the Flavor State.

How does the industry continue to grow?

Flavor companies partner with major food companies such as Unilever, Kraft Foods Inc., ConAgra, and Nestlé SA to create new and unique flavor experiences for their products. Companies manufacturing well-known brands spend a great deal of time understanding what consumers desire before introducing new flavor profiles into their foods and beverages. Through surveys, focus groups, and random testing, they have an understanding of the marketplace and which flavors will be acceptable and which will not. Consumers remember the experience of tasting unique and delicious flavors, and food companies want to supply that experience. The supply and demand has led the flavor industry to become a multi-billion dollar industry.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA) was founded in 1909 and is the national association of the U.S. flavor industry. FEMA’s membership is comprised of flavor manufacturers, flavor users, flavor ingredient suppliers, and others with an interest in the U.S. flavor industry. The association is committed to ensuring a safe supply of flavor ingredients used in foods and beverages enjoyed by billions of men, women, and children around the world.