Oregon woman with golden palate may have created some of your favorite foods
With just a sniff and a bite, Sarah Masoni prides herself on her ability to pick out every ingredient that went into a dish.
“There’s a series of people who are acknowledged supertasters and I guess I’m one of those,” she said.
Masoni uses her supertaster abilities every day at work as the director of product development and process program at the Food Innovation Center at Oregon State University. She works with everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to established food companies to help develop new products, all for the same consulting fee.
“I have spent nine years formulating for Garden Burger, which was originally in Portland, Oregon,” she said. “I’ve literally worked on thousands of products so I’d hate to leave anyone out. I have had some influence on Bob’s Red Mill. I worked in their original oatmeal cups which are actually the number one seller in that category now.”
Masoni is like a ghostwriter for food products, the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. She’s the one who dreamed up all of Salt & Straw’s original ice cream flavors; a Portland-based chain (with locations in Seattle) known for its wacky flavors and long lines. She created the entire menu, including toppings, in a single weekend. She talks about the inspiration behind their popular blue cheese and pear flavor.
“My husband was working in the dairy industry and he brought home a big huge bag of crumbled blue cheese and I would keep it in the freezer. So I’d be in the kitchen preparing dinner and I’d open the freezer for something else and I’d see that bag of blue cheese there. I’d grab a couple of the frozen bites and I noticed they had great texture and flavor coming right out of the freezer so when I had the opportunity to do ice cream I thought, wow, wouldn’t it be cool if we did a pear ice cream with blue cheese floating in it. Because blue cheese and pears are always put together on a cheese board.”
Masoni’s palate is most often used for tasting abnormalities in a product, for flavor and safety’s sake. She judges at food conferences and events around the country, tasting all kinds of things, but she loves dairy best.
“When I was at OSU I was on a dairy product judging team and I was the #1 ice cream and butter judge in the nation in 1985. So I’m trained on defects and qualities of ice cream.”
Part of Masoni’s appeal is her blunt honesty. Which is highly useful for getting a quality product, but can be tough to hear.
“My husband and I were at a steakhouse and the [server] came up to me afterward and said, ‘Can you tell me about the dinner?’ And I was like, “Are you sure you want me to tell you about the dinner? I’m not sure you want me to tell you about the dinner because something was not quite right with the potatoes.’ I basically told him about everything on the plate and he kind of just stood there and looked at me kind of funny.”
The server had no idea who she was, he was just asking if she’d enjoyed her meal.
Constantly working on new products, Masoni has her finger on the pulse of trends. She says fermented foods continue to be hot and kombucha isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“Food as medicine. People are eating food to feel better. We have projects where we’re actually working with doctors from universities who have specific types of foods they want to develop for specific ailments.”
Masoni may have a snobby palate, but when it comes to what she really likes to eat, her tastes are down to earth.
“To be honest with you, my favorite food is a hot dog. I can remember every hot dog I’ve ever eaten and what it tasted like.”
Then she spent many minutes walking me through the most memorable hot dogs of her life, including the $1.50 special at Costco.