A Salad is Born
The place where my love for food meets the joy of crafting
Using one hand to mix a huge bowl of eggplant, the other for seasoning the dressing, all the while opening and closing the oven door with my foot. This is exactly the place where my love for food meets the joy of crafting.
Hi, my name is Yaron and I’m a technologist with Strauss’ salad development team. I could go on and on about the central role we food engineers have in your lives, with every bite you or your kids take. But rather than me talking about that, just take a look in your fridge and ask yourself: how many readymade foods are in there? How about readymade salads? When is the last time you prepared your own chickpea salad, a roasted spiced eggplant, a green tehina dish or cabbage in mayo?
How do you choose between all those readymade salads in an overly stocked salad aisle? What does the label tell you? What is the healthiest option for you and your family? What’s the deal with all those preservatives we find in the readymade salads? If you haven’t asked yourselves these questions until now, keep reading and I promise you that will all change.
How is a new product born?
A new product starts with a good idea that is in tune with the needs of the consumers. The process usually begins with a marketing expert or even an employee who shares his own experience or kitchen knowhow (or even his parents’ personal cooking secrets), and is familiar with the market and can tell us when a current market need is unfulfilled. For example, I’m a big fan of baked fennel in olive oil, but I have a hunch that this product will not go over well with the mass consumer market (or am I wrong?).
After the idea is formulated, it rolls into my court, being the food technologist. From here I begin my feasibility testing. I ask certain questions: will the ingredient withstand the strict food safety and health requirements? Are we talking about a multi-seasonal vegetable such as eggplant, or one that is seasonal such as sweet potato? Can the ingredient or product as a whole endure a long shelf life?
The new product is on the way…
The first step is coming up with the best recipe I can, then checking how far off I am on taste and costs. Sometimes all goes well, but in most cases there are major challenges when it comes to shelf life, costing and preferred taste.
If and when we pass the threshold barriers, that’s when the fun begins; taking the home recipe and modifying to it industrial requirements. Try to remember the last time you prepared a huge meal for many people. My challenge is to turn that recipe into a dish of massive scale proportions. So yes, I consider myself somewhat of an artist.
Now we need to tackle the challenge of shelf life. Here’s where I act as ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice‘ and find myself using one hand to mix a huge bowl of eggplant, the other for seasoning the dressing, all while opening and closing the oven door with my foot. This is exactly the place where my love for food meets the joy of crafting.
After enough trial and error in the development lab, and if I believe I’m onto a winning salad recipe that meets all requirements, I move on to testing the product’s shelf life. Here, I put the salad to the test under the same conditions it would meet in the supermarket, tasting it every two to three days while micro-examining it to ensure the salad keeps its quality. Taste and improve is the name of the game. After the second, third or seventh try, the product ready for the development teams’ most important test, the taste test.
Have you ever participated in a random taste test at your neighborhood mall? That’s exactly what we do. A large group of people taste and express their opinion. For example, a new hummus (chickpea) salad took three months to develop, then two more improving the taste based on feedback. When the taste test is declared successful, we continue with additional components like packaging development and health approvals, among others.
And here is the new product!
At the end of this beautiful process, that took me only an hour to put in writing but can take months of battles in the lab and in the actual production (with some being won, and some lost), we launch a new salad. Congratulations!
In my next post I plan on sharing some of the classic myths on industrial hummus salads and their differences with hummus restaurants.